NEW YORK, June 21 (Reuters) ‑ Four men were charged on Thursday with attempting to intimidate and bribe a teenage girl who is a witness in an upcoming sexual assault trial that has deeply divided Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community.
Abraham Rubin, 48, offered the alleged victim and her boyfriend $500,000 to recant testimony against Nechemya Weberman, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday. Weberman, an unlicensed psychotherapist, is awaiting trial on charges that he repeatedly abused the girl, starting when she was 12 years old.
Another indictment unsealed on Thursday said Joseph, Jacob and Hertzka Berger attempted to pressure the girl and her boyfriend to stop cooperating with law enforcement. The brothers allegedly told the boyfriend, who is also a witness in the abuse case, that his restaurant would lose its kosher certification if he did not cave to their demands.
All four men pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn and were released on bail, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office said. Weberman has denied the sexual abuse charges against him, which were brought in 2011.
The cases are the first to result from a new task force set up by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to address witness intimidation and harassment in child sex-abuse cases in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community. The task force was formed in May in response to media reports that the community regularly hid cases of child sexual abuse from the authorities.
At a news conference announcing the indictments, Hynes defended his office's actions and said secrecy may be necessary to help shield abuse victims from harassment and intimidation efforts like the ones alleged in the indictment.
“Intimidation of victims and witnesses in sex abuse cases in the Orthodox community is what has made prosecuting these cases so difficult,” Hynes said. “Victims were afraid to come forward because they would be threatened and shunned in their communities.”
“Hopefully, these indictments serve as an example that we will not tolerate individuals who try to interfere with the pursuit of justice,” he said.
Israel Fried, a lawyer for Jacob Berger, called the allegations “conjecture.”
“These people have no criminal histories,” Fried said. “You've basically run into a situation where you have a divide within the communities with detractors and supporters on either side of the fence.”
A lawyer for Rubin said he intends to vigorously contest the charges.
Rubin could get up to seven years in prison if convicted on charges that include bribing a witness, witness tampering and coercion. Joseph Berger, 25, who has been charged with coercion and aggravated harassment, and Hertzka Berger, 37, charged with coercion, each face up to a year in prison. Jacob Berger, 27, charged with coercion and criminal mischief, faces up to four years in prison.
Lawyers for the other defendants did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday.
The cases are People v. Abraham Rubin, in the Supreme Court of the state of New York, Kings County, No. 05219-2012; and People v. Berger et al, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Kings County, No. 05221-2012.
For the DA’s office: Josh Hanshaft and Patricia McNeill. For Rubin: Shulamis Peltz.
For Hertzka Berger: Bruce Wenger.
For Jacob Berger: Israel Fried.
For Joseph Berger: Michael Elbaz.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 6/22/2012
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