The Shame of Borough Park | The New Yorker

Posted By on May 23, 2019

Sam Kellners reputation in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, began to suffer in 2008, when his teen-age son told him that he had been molested by a man who had prayed at their synagogue. Kellners first instinct was to run the man over with his van, but he didnt know if his anger was justified. Molestation was rarely discussed in the community, and it didnt seem to Kellner that any of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments explicitly related to it. The most relevant sinsadultery and coveting a neighbors belongingsdidnt capture the depth of the violation. Kellner couldnt pinpoint what was lost when a child was sexually abused, since the person looked the same afterward. But he sensed that molestation was damaging, because he knew a few victims, and they had gone off the derech, or religious way. They became dead-enders, lost souls, outcasts, he told me.

Kellner, a heavyset man with hazel eyes and a long, graying beard, never spoke about sexual matters with his six children. They would take classes about the human body (with a focus on how to get pregnant) only after their marriages were arranged. Kellner took his son to a modesty committee, called vaad hatznius, which enforces standards of sexual propriety among Borough Parks hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews, the majority of them Hasidic. Vaad hatznius disciplines residents who freely express their sexuality or behave lewdly. In a community where non-procreative sex is considered shameful, molestation tends to be regarded in roughly the same light as having an affair. When children complain about being molested, the council almost never notifies the police. Instead, it devises its own punishments for offenders: sometimes they are compelled to apologize, pay restitution, or move to Israel.

Kellner had once been a top administrator at the Munkacz synagogue and yeshiva, in Borough Park, but he had fought with other leaders about financial and educational policies. He had left the job and started a toner business, collecting discarded cartridges and reselling them. His sons alleged abuser, Baruch Lebovits, was the descendant of a rabbinic dynasty, a prominent cantor with twenty-four grandchildren. Kellner told vaad hatznius that he wanted to report his sons abuse to the police, because he didnt trust that the issue could be dealt with internally.

The committee granted him permission, as long he had the approval of a rabbi. The rabbi would have to make an exception to the Talmudic prohibition against mesirah, the act of turning over another Jew to civil authorities. According to some interpretations of Talmudic law, a Jew who informs on another Jew has committed a capital crime. He is a wicked man, who has blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses, the twelfth-century Torah scholar Maimonides wrote. The law was meant to protect the community from anti-Semitic governments. Kellner said, The way history tells it is that if a Jew was arrested he was thrown in jail and never heard of again.

Hasidim, whose movement emerged in the eighteenth century as a mystical, populist alternative to traditional Judaism, are defined in part by their concern for self-preservation. Kellner is the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who re-created in Brooklyn a community that had been destroyed by the war. Men dress in black frock coats; married women wear long skirts and hide their hair, which is considered alluring, under shawls or wigs. They speak Yiddish, and resist television, the Internet, and other secular forms of entertainment. Hasidic parents take literally the Lords order to be fruitful and multiplythey intend to replenish a culture devastated by the Holocaustand Hasidim are now the fastest-growing segment of the Jewish population in New York City. Sixty per cent of the citys Jewish children, many of them Hasidic, live in Orthodox homes.

Kellner, who was a member of a synagogue that is closely affiliated with the Satmar sect, the largest Hasidic community in New York, wasnt sure that the prohibition against mesirah made sense in a country where, he said, the justice system is credible enough. Although the Satmar community distrusts secular government, it participates fully in the democratic process. Hasidim typically vote as a bloc, delivering tens of thousands of votes to the politicians their leaders endorse. In exchange for the communitys loyalty, politicians have given Brooklyns Hasidim wide latitude to police themselves. They have their own emergency medical corps, a security patrol, and a rabbinic court system, which often handles criminal allegations.

Kellner sought counsel from Rabbi Chaim Flohr, the leader of an institute where rabbinic scholars study how the teachings of the Torah translate to contemporary dilemmas. After listening to Kellners story, Flohr called the modesty councils in Borough Park and Williamsburg (where there are sixty thousand Hasidim) to see if other children had reported being molested by Lebovits. Flohr wrote in an affidavit that numerous complaints and allegations of a similar nature had been made against Baruch Lebovits dating back over a long period of time. Flohr told Kellner that he was justified in going to the police, because Lebovits could be considered a rodef, or pursuer, someone who is endangering the lives of other Jews. In a letter, Flohr wrote, Behold I make known in the public arena: to praise an honest man, namely Mr. Shloma Aron Kellner, may his light shine, that how he acted in regards to the government was based on a query before a rabbinic court and was done according to our Holy Torah.... It is forbidden to trouble him or humiliate him.

With the rabbis approval, Kellner took his son, whom Ill call Yossel, to the offices of the Brooklyn Special Victims Unit, in Crown Heights, to speak with Steven Litwin, the senior detective. A studious and introspective boy, Yossel explained that Lebovits had offered him a ride home from a school outing late at night, then reached over to the passenger seat and molested him. He said that Lebovits was soon moaning and grunting. He told his teacher what had happened, but the teacher said that Lebovits was a respected person and instructed him not to think about the incident again.

Litwin found the boys claims to be extremely credible, he wrote in an affidavit. But he told Kellner that the crime was a misdemeanor, and that it was unlikely that Lebovits, a first-time offender, would receive jail time. Disappointed, Kellner said that Lebovits had molested other boys, too. O.K., so help me find them, Litwin told him.

Kellner went back to the modestycouncil and was given the name of another boy, Joshua, who had complained about Lebovits. (All victims names have been changed.) Joshua said that, starting in 2000, when he was twelve, Lebovits sometimes drove alongside him while he was walking to school, honking his horn and encouraging him to get into the car, where Lebovits performed oral sex on him. Joshua said that, on other occasions, Lebovits molested him in the mikvah, a ritual bath that was in the basement of his synagogue.

Joshua had gone to a yeshiva for students with developmental disabilities. His family was poor, and he begged for charity outside synagogues and weddings, a common practice in Borough Park, where the poorest members of the Hasidic community live and pray next to the wealthiest. They patronize the same businesses on Thirteenth Avenue, a commercial strip of kosher restaurants and shops. Although Kellner had never met Joshua, he drove to his house and offered him work helping to plan the wedding of a mutual acquaintance. Kellner gradually steered the conversation toward Baruch Lebovits, and urged Joshua to report his abuse. Joshua became jittery and hyper. Listen, unless you go to the authorities, youll never feel relaxed, Kellner told him. Youll never feel unviolated.

On March 6, 2008, Joshua told Detective Litwin that he had been molested by Lebovits on more than thirty occasions over four years. Once, he said, Lebovits had picked him up on his way to school and anally raped him in a building near his yeshiva. After each encounter, Lebovits apologized and promised he would never do it again.

Five days later, Baruch Lebovits was arrested in front of his house. Although Joshuas name wasnt publicly released, everyone in his neighborhood seemed to know that he had gone to the police. Natalie Hadad, his best friend, said, People would call him and say, If you testify, bad things are going to happen to your parents. If you testify, youre going to get thrown out of Borough Park.

A few months later, Kellner spoke with Dov Hikind, the assemblyman who represents Borough Park. Hikind hosts a weekly radio program, and he had recently dedicated three shows to the problem of sex abuse among the ultra-Orthodox. Hikind said that, after the show, more than a hundred victims had called or visited his office to complain about multiple offenders. One of the victims was a twenty-year-old named Aron, who said that Lebovits had repeatedly molested him in his car, beginning when he was sixteen. A year later, he fell in with a clique of teen-agers who were known to be O.T.D., or off the derech, and he began using heroin or cocaine almost every day.

Aron had tried to leave the Hasidic community, but he struggled to assimilate into the secular world. Many of the yeshivas in Brooklyn teach in Yiddish and provide less than two hours of secular education a day. Aron had a heavy Yiddish accent, a rudimentary grasp of written English, and no diploma. In a video filmed by a friend, Aron complained about his limited education and social skills. He said that he didnt know how to interact with womenhe had been forbidden to mingle with them or look them in the eyeand no one had taught him what your body is about. He had struggled to process what was happening when Lebovits, a pious man, put his mouth on Arons penis. My head, like, exploded, he said. Call it an epiphany, I guess.

Arons schoolmate Boorey Deutsch said that he and his friends had known that Aron was molested by Lebovits. We saw them together, Deutsch told me. And every day we saw Aron breaking down. He stopped playing with us. He hung out in the corners. Then we started bullying him. I even recall slapping him once in the face.

Aron felt that he had little to lose when Kellner urged him to report his abuse. Ian Christner, a mental-health advocate who worked with Aron, said that Kellner adopted a paternal attitude toward Aron, who was often so high that he nodded off in the middle of conversations. Sam Kellner saw the way that victims in the community were suffering, Christner told me. He is a real tough guy, and he has got a sense of fairness. Its not a high-placed sense of social justice that comes from being a scholar. Its simple and straightforward. If he feels like people have wronged him or his family, hell make sure that they hear about it.

In October, 2008, a second indictment was brought against Lebovits, naming Aron as a victim. A few weeks later, Aron was invited to the home of Berel Ashkenazi, the spiritual adviser of his former yeshiva, who was a colleague of Baruch Lebovitss son. It was a Friday afternoon, a few hours before businesses closed for Shabbat. Ashkenazi served Aron food, made polite conversation, and then, Aron said, offered him between five and ten thousand dollars to drop out of the case. (Ashkenazi denied this, and said that Aron came to him seeking compensation.)

Although Aron disliked Ashkenazi, he was tempted by the offer. He told Kellner that he needed the money. Dont be crazy! Kellner shouted. I could get you two hundred thousand dollars! Kellner, who barely had enough money to support his family, told me that he was willing to say anything to keep the case intact. He asked a rabbi, Yisroel Makevetzky, if he had permission to report Ashkenazi to the police for tampering with a witness. Makevetzky held a hearing on the matter in a yeshiva classroom on the edge of Borough Park and concluded that Aron was a moser, an informer. He ruled that Ashkenazi was right to dissuade Aron from testifying in criminal court, as this is a serious transgression. In his ruling, he wrote that Ashkenazi should help the young man in following the just path, and will begin in this after the young man removes himself from the jurisdiction of the secular courts.

Aron eventually described the situation to Detective Litwin, who documented the incident in his notes, and forbade Aron to accept money from anyone. Arons father, Abe, who owned a kosher Italian frozen-food company, lost several customers because of the case, but he supported his sons decision to go to trial. Abe told me that the Mishnah, the first major work of rabbinic literature, says that it is the obligation of the community to stop a rodef from making his next attack. Its in the books, he told critics. Look it up!

Soon, Aron became the object of intimidation and threats. A Hasidic medical volunteer, who helped Aron with his addiction, told me that at some point people started reaching out to me. The messages were never specific, but it was pretty obvious that I need to read between the lines: you need to let him relapse. You need to let him crack. The medical volunteer (who, like many people I interviewed, requested anonymity, because he didnt want to be ostracized by his community) met with Litwin. I tried to explain to him that there is no way hes going to get the type of coperation he wants, he said. Unless you really understand how this community workswhat tactics are used to intimidate these victims, to prevent them from coming forward, to manipulate them into feeding the authorities wrong informationyou will never deliver.

On holidays, it used to take Kellner an hour to make his way into the synagogue, because he had so many people to greet. Now only a few people in his prayer group responded when he made conversation. Some yelled that he was a moser. He began saying his daily prayers elsewhere. He also let his interest in his toner business lapse. He was too inflamed. When it comes to your kid, you overdo ityou lose your mind, he said.

He didnt dwell on the insultsin response to criticism, he usually shouted that Rabbi Flohr had approved everythingbut he worried about the effect on his children. Yossel found the case so embarrassing that he denied his participation to his brothers and sisters. There was never talk in my house about this whole Lebovits thing, Kellner told me. My other kids heard people talking on the street, and they used to have to ask my wife, Which one of us was molested?

Kellner worried that the psychological dysfunction he saw in Joshua and Aron could eventually afflict his son. He wondered if it was possible that Lebovits had nothing do with their fragile mental states; maybe it was just a coincidence that, on top of all their problems, they had been molested. I was hoping to wake up one day and they tell me theres a new study and weve all made a mistake, he said. Molestation doesnt make any permanent damage. Its no worse than yelling at your kid.

But Yossel already seemed more cautious and isolated. He was no longer welcome at his yeshiva in Borough Park. They ignored me and my son, and, when summer was over and the new school year started, they gave me a hard time, Kellner said. They said, Oh, maybe you need special ed for your child. In the fall, he sent Yossel and his younger brother to yeshivas outside the city. Kellner never contemplated moving, because all the major Hasidic communitiesin upstate New York, Jerusalem, London, Montreal, and Antwerpwere connected, and he assumed that everyone already knew his story. The idea of moving to a non-Hasidic neighborhood was too far-fetched to consider. What are we going to dogive up our beliefs, our religion, our everything? he said.

In the fall of 2009, Kellner was notified of a summons issued by Rabbi Makevetzky to participate in what was described as the case of Mr. Shloma Aron Kellner, may his light shine, and the Lebovits family in the matter of injury of the son. Kellner assumed that the hearing was a trap, designed to force his son out of criminal court. He told the rabbi that he would coperate only if someone else paid for the hearingthe rabbi charged a hundred and fifty dollars an hourand for the cost of being represented by a secular lawyer. An acquaintance of one of Lebovitss sons paid Kellners expenses. Then, Kellner said, the man came back with an offer: Kellner should accept two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to drop the criminal case. (Lebovitss oldest son, Chaim, denied that this happened. He added that Kellner was always looking for money.)

Kellner was insulted by the offer. What would I say to my son? he said. That I took money so he could be used as a prostitute? At a meeting at the district attorneys office, he told Detective Litwin and three prosecutors in the sex-crimes division that people were trying to bribe him. According to one official at the meeting, Kellner complained that the only victims who were willing to come forward were already outcasts. He warned, Stay on top of them, or the other side will buy them off.

Not long after, Kellner drove to the home of one of Lebovitss sons, Meyer, whom he had known since he was a child, to complain about an invoice that he had received from Rabbi Makevetzky. He had been charged eighteen hundred dollars, even though the negotiations for the rabbinic court had collapsed. Meyer, who surreptitiously recorded the conversation, didnt directly address Kellners concern about who would pay for his expenses. Standing on the sidewalk in front of his house in Borough Park, he began speaking of the shame that his family was enduring, and he accused Kellner of violating a law in the Torah. You cannot punish a person unless you warn him, he told him.

Kellner insisted that the modesty council had tried to warn his father and had given him opportunities to coperate. I am not going to justify myself now, he said. Perhaps it was half right. Perhaps it was three-quarters right. Perhaps it was only a quarter right.

Didnt you put together an entire case? Meyer said. Didnt you become Gods police? He said that, if Kellner had warned him directly, I would have taken care of the problem. We would have done everything.

I dont believe that you will ever understand, Kellner said. But I cannot go to a person and tell the person that his father did it.

The men began arguing about whose reputation had been hurt more by the case. They were both upset that the allegations would prevent their children from marrying well. Kellner begged Meyer to persuade his father to plead guilty, so that his son wouldnt have to testify at a trial. But Meyer said that the prosecution wasnt offering his father the plea deal he wanted: no jail time, just probation. He suggested that, if Kellner didnt want his son to be exposed, he should pull him out of the case.

I cannot drop it, Kellner said.

But you dont want to go to trial!

But after all my child was treated unjustly!

True.

I dont want to drop it, Kellner repeated.

So you want to settle? Meyer asked.

No!

Kellner had hoped that all three victims would testify at the same trial, but a judge ruled that trying the cases together would prejudice the jury. Joshuas case was scheduled to go first. In November, 2009, the prosecutor, Miss Gregory, met with Joshua at her office, and he seemed ready for trial. Three weeks later, she received a message from John Lonuzzi, then the president of the Brooklyn Bar Association. Lonuzzi, a civil attorney, said that Joshua would no longer be coperating with the prosecution, because it was causing him severe stress and he was suffering from a variety of psychological issues. In an affidavit, Gregory wrote that she made multiple appointments to meet Lonuzzi and Joshua, but all the meetings were cancelled. When Joshua didnt comply with four subpoenas, she mentioned to the chief assistant to Charles Hynes, the district attorney, that she was concerned about the possibility of witness tampering, but no one followed up. After Joshua dropped out of the case, he confided to Detective Litwin that he had never retained Lonuzzi and didnt know who had. Litwin wrote in an affidavit that Joshua said that he was under pressure and was afraid, but he wouldnt elaborate. (Lonuzzi denied this account, and said that he had no involvement in witness tampering.)

Arons trial began in March, 2010. With no material evidence or eyewitnesses, it hinged on Arons credibility. Lebovitss lawyer, Arthur Aidala, the current president-elect of the Brooklyn Bar Association, dwelled on Arons history of sneaking into synagogues late at night and stealing cash from charity boxes. Aidala told the jury that Aron had fabricated a story about being abused so that he could extort money from the Lebovits family. He disrespects the court and our system, Aidala said. The whole thinghe made it up to get money. He didnt get the money, and now he is stuck.

The only witness for the defense was Berel Ashkenazi, the spiritual adviser at Arons yeshiva. Ashkenazi testified that Aron was a nervous child who didnt have patience. He told the jury that Aron was pursuing the charges against Lebovits in order to pay for his drugs. It bothers me that he wants to lie about an innocent person, he said.

Gregory, the prosecutor, asked Ashkenazi, Do you consider Aron to be a traitor for what he is saying against the defendant?

What means the word traitor? Ashkenazi asked.

Let me ask you this, Gregory continued. Do you understand the concept of a mesirah?

Mesirah?

Maybe I am not pronouncing it, but isnt that a Jewish person is not supposed to perform

A Jewish man is not allowed to go to court without the permission from his rabbi, Ashkenazi said.

And if that Jewish person doesnt go to his rabbi are there any consequences?

I never heard, he responded. I dont know.

Sir, wouldnt such a person be stigmatized in your community?

The rabbi will talk to him, he said.

Isnt it possible that a consequence of that could be that this person would be stigmatized within the community?

It depends.

It depends on what?

Depends on how he did it, he said.

The jury found Lebovits guilty on eight counts of sexual abuse. In the month between the conviction and the sentencing, nearly eighty people sent letters to the judge, requesting mercy for Lebovits. They described him as charitable, kind, blessed with a beautiful singing voice, and compassionate toward helpless people. Zalman Teitelbaum, one of the two Grand Rebbes of Satmar, the highest authorities among the Satmar Hasidim, wrote, In the name of Almighty God and for the sake of compassionate justice, I appeal to your God-given wisdom to treat Mr. Lebovits with the utmost understanding.

The judge, Patricia DiMango, sentenced Lebovits to the maximum penalty on eight counts, to run consecutively, for a total of up to thirty-two yearsa harsher sentence than anyone had expected. The average sentence given to defendants convicted of similar crimes is two years. She said, It is imperative for courts to send a clear and unequivocal message that abusing and harming children will not be tolerated.

One of Kellners relatives told me that after the trial no one talked about the real issue, the victims. Instead, they talked about the problem of Sam Kellner going on a crusade. He believed that the lengthy sentence triggered everything. Now the Lebovits family would not let this go down. They were going to spend millions of dollars and fight, fight, fight.

Aidala, Lebovitss defense attorney, told me that the trial was one of the worst and most surprising losses of his career. Immediately, he began second-guessing his strategy. A year before, he had given the district attorneys office a tape of a recorded conversation that he thought indicated that his clients family was the target of extortion by Kellner. After discussing it with sex-crimes prosecutors, Aidala had dropped the subject.

Now Aidala wanted to broach the topic of extortion again. He was comfortable in the district attorneys office, where he had begun his career. He was close to the D.A., Charles Hynes, who had been in office for twenty years, and to his family, and to several top officials. He had volunteered on all of Hyness relection campaigns and frequently attended his fund-raisers.

On April 27, 2010, six weeks after the trial ended, Aidala went to the district attorneys office and met with the chief of the rackets bureau, Michael Vecchione, who was also a friend. Initially, Aidala didnt focus on Kellner. He spoke about a case that was easier to substantiate: he said that, days before, a friend of Kellners named Simon Taub had extorted the Lebovits family. Taub had said that his son had been molested and threatened to go to the police unless he was compensated by the family. A few weeks later, in a sting operation, detectives from the rackets bureau wired Chaim Lebovits, a businessman who had made a fortune in oil and diamonds. Chaim went to Taubs home and caught him on tape accepting money.

After he was arrested, Taub said that prosecutors told him, If you coperate with us, you will be home in an hour. They pushed him to implicate Kellner in an extortion plot. Taub said that he didnt have the information that the prosecutors wanted. To coperate, I had to lie, he told me. Instead, he pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny and was sentenced to probation. The alleged abuse of his son was never investigated.

Chaim told me that the crime was a miracle, because it lent legitimacy to his familys complaints. Soon, they insisted that Kellner had been after them, too. They said that Kellner had offered to make the case go away, but they had refused. As evidence, they gave the rackets bureau the audio recording that the sex-crimes division had already heard. The recording captured a conversation in Yiddish between Meyer Lebovits and Kellner about who would pay the costs of the rabbinic court. The English translation provided to the district attorneys office was so laden with emotional outbursts and Talmudic references that it is possible to miss the context and understand only that Kellner is asking for money. An assistant district attorney requested that Meyer Lebovits be given a polygraph test, to see if he was lying about his family being extorted by Kellner, but Vecchione said no. According to a prosecutor with knowledge of the case, There was a strong sense that the investigation was a favor that Mike Vecchione did for Arty Aidala, a very close friend. (Vecchione and Aidala deny that their friendship affected the case. Vecchione disputes many details of this account.)

The rackets bureau encouraged the Lebovits family to get information out of Aron. Under the guidance of Vecchione, who is now retired, the family paid for one of Arons friends, also a drug addict, to take Aron to a rented house in Florida and question him about the case. (Vecchione denies knowing about the video before it was made.) The friend pretended to be making a movie of Arons life, and enlisted two young filmmakers (also from Hasidic families) to direct the video. They urged Aron to open up about his relationship with Kellner. In order for me to build the script of your life, I have to know the whole twist, one of the filmmakers says, in the footage.

Aron, who was smoking marijuana for much of the filming, was less interested in talking about the case than about his sense of estrangement. Sitting on a cream-colored sofa, in a T-shirt and black jeans, he looks like a patient in his first therapy session, relieved that someone is finally listening to him. I feel like an atheist, but I feel bad feeling like an atheist, he told the filmmakers. I want to live up to the place where I come from, to be Jewish. He spoke, too, about his bond with Joshua, who had disappointed him by dropping out of the case. He said that when Joshua described his abuse to the grand jury, before the indictment, the court reporter wept while typing. If you saw [Joshua] speaking, youd have cried, he said.

The filmmakers tried to direct the conversation away from Arons emotions. They seemed confused by the fact that Aron had risked his reputation by testifying in court, asking what he had gained. Kellner told you he was going to give you money? one of them said.

This wasnt the thingno, Aron said.

You never got money?

No, thats not true, thats bullshit.

What could Kellner sell you?

Nothing. That is the joke, thats what I want to say.

The filmmakers seemed unhappy with his response. One told Aron, You would never have gone to court if not for that jackass Kellner [who] wanted money.

No, no, no, no, Aron said.

Thats how I want to make the movie, the filmmaker persisted. Hes a crazy man, this Kellner.

Do you want to hear the truth? Aron continued. He let me go the truthful way. I proceeded truthfully and honestly.

But why did Kellner have the power to schlep you? the filmmakers asked.

Who didnt have the power to schlep me? he said. I had such a soft heart.

Aron was proud that he had gone through with the trial, unlike Joshua, who he said had been pressured and offered money. They terrorized him, he said. They took real victims, and they shot down their lives. He said that he had expected Lebovits to call him, beg for forgiveness, and say, Im an elderly man, please dont do this to me. He figured that, if Lebovits had apologized, he would have dropped the case. Id say, O.K., Im sorry. Whatever. And we forgive each other.

The video did not produce information useful to the district attorneys office, but the Lebovits family was still confident that they could prove that Kellner was an extortionist. Chaim told me that Hynes specified for his lawyers exactly which kinds of evidence they would need to arrest Kellner. They said that, if you can provide A, B, C, D, E, and F, then we will move in with the indictment, Chaim said. (Hynes, through his lawyer, declined to comment for this story.)

The Lebovits family hired a Hasidic private investigator named Joe Levin, who runs a company called T.O.T. Consultingthe letters standing for the Yiddish phrase tuchis afn tish, or put your ass on the table. Levin said that at his first meeting with Chaim, at the Plaza Hotel, he was instructed to find anything that might cast Kellner in a negative light. (He said that he was so troubled by what he observed that he felt justified in telling me about his work for the family.)

Beginning in the fall of 2010, Levin bugged Kellners van, and he and his employees followed him. He listened to hours of Kellners conversations each week. But he came up with little related to the case. It was devastating, Levin told me. I really went nowhere.

After he had been working on the case for a few months, he said, he was asked to drive to the home of a friend of Hynes, where a birthday party was being held. Levin said, It was a very fancy house, and people just came in and out. Meyer Lebovits attended the party briefly, he said, and was joined by two machers, or big shots, who mediate between secular political figures and the community. Levin stayed within three hundred feet of the house, because he had been asked to record the machers conversations. It is not uncommon for Hasidic power brokers to record conversations to use as leverage. (Meyer denied going to the party.)

After the party, Levin said, the relationship between the Lebovits sons and the district attorneys office immediately became much warmer. He was surprised by how frequently the Lebovits family received updates about the investigations. When he overheard phone conversations, It did not sound like law enforcement talking to a criminals family. It sounded like two good friends. Levin said that he can remember few cases where the pressure on him was higher. The message he got from the Lebovits sons was Now we have the O.K., so anything you bring to us, we are going to be able to do something with it.

In late 2010 and early 2011, Aron was summoned to the district attorneys office a number of times and interrogated about his relationship with Kellner. His father, Abe, told me that Aron, after being the key witness for the prosecution, now felt as if he were being treated as a criminal. Aron had little information to offer. He repeatedly insisted, as he had at trial, that he had never accepted money.

Joshua proved a more forthcoming witness. After failing to communicate with the sex-crimes division for nearly a year, he reappeared with his lawyer, John Lonuzzi, to say that Kellner had brainwashed him. Lebovits never molested me, he said. Everything I said was false. He said that he made up the story because Kellner gave him a hundred dollars a week and Detective Litwin took him out for meals.

Lebovitss cousin Moshe Friedman, the publisher of an influential Yiddish newspaper, Der Yid, and the adviser to Zalman Teitelbaum, the Grand Rebbe, also accused Kellner of criminal behavior. Testifying before a grand jury in March, 2011, he said that Kellner came to his office and begged him to persuade the Lebovits family to hand over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Yosef Blau, the senior spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University, said that he was amazed that Friedman would testify before a grand jury, given the communitys rules against informing on other Jews. Its extraordinary that this major figure in the community is willing to be a moser to get Kellner, he said. He believed that Friedman got involved because Kellners behavior was seriously threatening to the communitys power structure.

Two weeks after Friedmans testimony, Kellner came home after shopping in Williamsburg and found a tall man in casual clothing standing outside. The man had a companion, who flashed a police badge and instructed Kellner to get inside his Jeep. The driver took a circuitous route through Borough Park, and Kellner began to worry that he was being kidnapped. Yossel, who had watched his father being taken away, called the police. An unmarked car just picked up my father, he told a sergeant. There were no lights, no nothing.

Twenty minutes later, Kellner arrived at a familiar building, the office of the district attorney, in downtown Brooklyn. He was placed in a holding cell in a hallway. His wife brought him his diabetes pills and his prayer book. He fell asleep to the sound of officers talking about a ring of criminals with stolen credit cards. He wondered if he was being apprehended for some sort of violation with his toner business or if he had accidentally got involved in a drug bust.

In the morning, he was handcuffed and escorted to Kings County Supreme Court, two blocks away. He was greeted by a crowd of local reporters, who took pictures as he walked down the hallway to court. Kellners lawyer, Israel Fried, said that when he handed Kellner the indictment he appeared bewildered and shell-shocked. The indictment said that he had made repeated demands to Meyer Lebovits, the son of Baruch Lebovits, for payments in excess of $50,000, in return for which the defendant Kellner would, through the defendant Kellners ability to control the coperation and the content of the testimony of the complaining victims, cause the dismissal of criminal charges. He faced up to twenty-one years in prison.

At a press conference that morning, Charles Hynes announced the charges while standing beside an easel with a large photograph of Kellners face on it. He told a room full of reporters that child abuse has to be prosecuted vigorously, but we also have to be very, very careful about false complaints. Later, on a Jewish radio show, Hynes said, Were confident we have the case.... I believe there was a substantial effort by Mr. Kellner to gain money, for his own benefit, by making up stories.

A day after Kellners arrest, Lebovitss appeals lawyers, Alan Dershowitz (the former Harvard law professor, who worked on the O. J. Simpson case) and his brother, Nathan, persuaded an appellate judge to free Lebovits on bail, pending the determination of his appeal. Alan Dershowitz, who grew up in Borough Park, told me that the Kellner information put the government in a difficult position: on the one hand, they are proclaiming that my client was extorted, and, on the other hand, they are claiming that he is guilty of eight felonies. Within a week, Lebovits was released, after thirteen months in prison. He arrived in Borough Park in time for the first night of Passover and led a Seder at his home.

Kellner was in jail for about thirty-two hours, which he saw as punishment for putting Lebovits in prison for thirty-two years. Although he had acted for what he thought were good reasons, there was also a part of him that had wanted revenge, and it was this impulse, he believed, that God was punishing. When you hurt someone, you better make sure your motivations are pure, he told his son. Because if your intentions arent pure, you are going to pay the price.

Yossels case against Lebovits had been dismissed six months earlier, without explanation. No one from the sex-crimes bureau had notified him or his father. Yossel told me that if he had a friend who was molested he would advise him to avoid the secular courts. Why would you report to the police if youre just going to shame yourself and open your wounds and be more destroyed? he said.

Yossel was a Cadillac of a boy, one rabbi told me, but he had reached his twenties and had yet to marry. Hasidic families typically marry off their children in descending order: the younger siblings wait for the older ones to be matched, ideally around the age of eighteen. Kellners four youngest children had been stalled since 2008, when their father first went to the police. Kellner said that his brothers thought he was crazy for allying himself with loners like Joshua and Aron. They tell me, Youve ruined the family, he said. And the truth is Im starting to think maybe they are right. If your job is to protect your child, maybe the best thing to do is keep your mouth shut.

At night, unable to sleep, Kellner paced his house, going over all the details of his indictment. At times, he almost admired the Lebovits sons for spending so much money to save their father. They honored their father so much, he said. You cant take that away from anyone. He described their activities as if recounting the chess moves of an opponent. They masterfully put this thing together, he said. Amazing stuff. His anger was directed largely toward the district attorneys office. A thug can only go so far on his own, he told me.

A Hasidic businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me that in parts of the Hasidic community there was widespread speculation that Kellner had been framed. He said that Kellner had become the prime example of how devastated you will be if you go against the rabbis. He said that Flohr, the rabbi who had granted Kellner permission to go to the police, was an outlier in his approach toward molestation. Hes not a major power broker, he told me. Hes a nobody when it comes to internal, high-level politics. The businessman believed that Kellner had made himself vulnerable as a target, because he had been sloppy and uninformed in his interactions with law enforcement. He didnt understand the legal system, so he was meddling too much, he said.

In the spring of 2012, the guilty verdict against Lebovits was vacated because of a prosecutorial violation: two pages of Detective Litwins notes (about Berel Ashkenazi, the defense witness) hadnt been disclosed until halfway through the trial. The district attorneys office promised to retry Arons case, but Aron, who was now twenty-four, didnt want to go through a second trial. He cant take the pressure anymore, his father, Abe, told me. Aron felt betrayed by the friend who had taken him to Florida, and now saw conspiracies in daily life. When his car broke down, he wondered if Lebovitss sons had hired someone to fill the tank with the wrong kind of fuel. When he got in a motorcycle accident, he suspected that the Lebovits family had arranged the collision.

Several weeks after the conviction was overturned, one of Baruch Lebovitss in-laws approached Abe outside his synagogue and said, Maybe we can make a closing to this case. Abe was exhausted by the case, which had hurt his business and restricted the synagogues where he could pray, so he told the Lebovits family that he would agree to negotiate a civil settlement. He asked for several hundred thousand dollars, but they said that was too much. They changed their minds after the trial of Nechemya Weberman, a Hasidic sex offender who, in early 2013, was sentenced to more than a hundred years in prison. When Weberman got a guilty verdict, all of a sudden it was hot, hot, Abe said. They were willing to agree to my number.

Abe could not disclose how much money he received except to say that it was enough for his son to build a house, to build a life. In exchange, Aron sent a letter to the district attorneys office stating that he was satisfied with the punishment that Lebovits had already served. Abe and his son were represented by an attorney named Michael Ross, who Abe said had been recommended to him by the Lebovits family and who worked for free. Ross met with Hynes and explained that Aron did not wish to testify at a second trial. Aron wrote to me on Facebook (the only medium through which he felt comfortable communicating) that the Lebovits family, their lawyers, his father, and Ross handled the details of the civil settlement. I had no qluo of anything what wuz going on beind closd doors, he wrote. (Ross declined to comment, except to say, Any matter that Im involved in, the client will always be fully informed.)

Read more:

The Shame of Borough Park | The New Yorker

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