Thursday, December 6, 2012

Weberman takes stand to defend himself

With a costumed crowd pressing against velvet ropes begging to be let in, the Brooklyn criminal courtroom resembled a nightclub Wednesday.
The iconoclastic garb of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish sect was unmistakable as members showed up to support Nechemya Weberman when he took the stand to defend himself against charges that he sexually molested a beautiful Satmar teenager while he was supposed to be her therapist. Lubavitcher and Modern Orthodox Jews showed up to support the woman, sequestered in another room, quietly celebrating, if you could call it that, her 18th birthday.
Ladies in wigs and hats, with long skirts and arms and legs covered, sat apart from the men in dark suits, wearing yarmulkes, their hair in forelocks, as the jury as diverse as Brooklyn itself stared out over the insular community and got a lesson in Hasidism 101 from the testimony.
Like the fact that what you wear is no joke, as the alleged victim found out when she began to break the dress code with short skirts and sheer tights, and when she began to share pop songs like “Love Can Kill You” and sneak off to Hollywood movies.
The recalcitrant teen had come to the attention of an internal committee of men called the Va’ad Hatznius, which helps enforce modesty rules — among 613 commandments Satmar members believe must be followed.
According to the testimony of another young woman who'd taken the stand Wednesday morning, you don't want to mess with Va’ad Hatznius.
“Isn't it true that masked individuals came into your bedroom in the middle of the night and seized your cell phone?” no-nonsense prosecutor Kevin O'Donnell asked Baila Gluck. “And that this is the type of action Va’ad Hatznius takes when Satmar don't follow the rules? And wasn't it traumatic for you?” Yes. Yes. And yes.
But it was nothing like the trauma Weberman's accuser said she suffered as he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex and recreate scenes from porn movies. She had been ordered by her religious school's principal, Weberman's cousin, to go to Weberman for therapy, which he had no license to provide. And her parents were forced to pay for it.
If she didn't get therapy, she would be thrown out of the school, Weberman admitted. Though Weberman adamantly denied ever molesting her, the girl says the abuse went on for three years.
A young Satmar woman dressed modestly but wearing green nail polish against her husband's wishes told the Daily News, “I don't have time to come here, but I'm compelled to listen for myself. I need to know the truth.”
The victim of molestation for five years as a child, Debbie Teller set up the website — Enough is Enough — to post names of sex offenders in the Orthodox community worldwide. Since the Weberman trial began, her site’s visitors have spiked by the thousands.
Sex abuse isn't greater within the Hasidic community than outside, said social worker Carole Sher, who helps run the SOURI Hotline, Support Orthodox Victims of Rape and Incest.
But there's been a lot of covering up in the past. But now with more receptive rabbis and greater communication, that's changing.”
The Brooklyn jury learned that if a Jewish person reported another Jewish person to the police, they would be labeled a “moser” — informer — and ostracized as strongly as a Mob rat.
With the Internet, the thin black line of silence in the religious community has been erased, agreed Joey DiAngello, perhaps one of the most colorful people attending the trial.
Born Yoel Deutsch into the Satmar sect 32 years ago, DiAngello, a heavy-metal drummer with Slayer and Iron Maiden tatoos on his arms, told The News he was raped at the age of seven in a mikvah, or public bath. He's set up the Facebook pages War on Vaad Hatznius and Survivors for Justice.
“I've gotten tweets from people calling me a self-hating Jew, but I really want to help Jewish kids in the same situation I was in,” he says. “It's like metal. I have something to say, and if you don't like it, I'll turn it up even louder.”
A prominent Hasidic counselor said he “never ever” sexually assaulted a beautiful Brooklyn girl, and testified he didn’t know anything about lingerie bought by a charity he founded.
Nechemya Weberman, taking the stand in a child-sex-abuse case, acknowledged Wednesday that he founded a charity and used it to pay for his salary and his kids’ education.
Weberman stands accused of forcing a Brooklyn teen to perform oral sex, as well as watch and reenact porn, over a three-year period, beginning when she was 12. 
The 54-year-old defendant testified he did not inappropriately touch the alleged victim, who turned 18 Wednesday.
Prosecutors also raised the specter that Weberman may have sexually abused other teens — allegations that were also denied in court.
Presenting himself as a “rabbinical counselor,” Weberman, said he started a not-for-profit organization called B’lev V’nefesh, Hebrew for “in heart and soul,” around 2000. He said it was used to raise money for those who can’t afford his services.
He was then confronted with financial records showing that the charity’s credit cards were used at BMG Corset & Lingerie, The Lingerie Shop and other undergarment stores.
“Me, myself, I’m not aware of this,” Weberman said. “This is the first time I heard about it.”
The charity — whose only principals are the defendant and his wife, Chaya Golda — was also used to pay tuition for the private Satmar yeshiva their kids attended and for Weberman’s salary. In one month, expenses came close to $12,000, a prosecutor said.
“Did you use this not-for-profit for your own personal gain?” Assistant District Attorney Kevin O’Donnell asked him.
“Yes, I did,” Weberman replied.
Also Wednesday, a woman named Baila Gluck, 23, testified about residing at Weberman’s home office for a couple of years as a teen. She stayed in the same apartment as the alleged victim in the case being tried had claimed she was forced to perform oral sex and reenact porn starting in 2007.
Gluck said after she had no place to stay following troubles at home, “He offered (for me) to come live at his house.” She added that during her time there, two other girls occasionally stayed in the flat.
One of those girls has told authorities she caught Weberman and Gluck in a compromising position. That person refused to testify for fear of retribution, a source said.
But Gluck, asked if one of the girls ever walked in and saw her sitting on Weberman’s lap while he had an erection, replied “No.”
She also denied being taken by Weberman to buy lingerie and bras and also a claim that she told the other housemate, when discussing the counselor, “I had to do what I had to do to get by.”
Weberman, a father of 10, spent about four hours on the stand and was the final witness in the high-profile trial.
The defendant, a well-regarded member of the Satmar sect, was once the driver of Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, he testified.
The insular group split into two after its leader’s death in 2006 and the counselor agreed he’s one of only a handful of people who are respected by both warring factions.
Children who had issues following the sect’s strict rules would be referred to him by schools or rabbis, he said, and he would then charge their parents about $150 an hour to counsel them.
In her testimony last week, the alleged victim testified she objected to the sect’s stringent dress code, which required thicker tights than she cared to wear.
When he first counseled the teen who brought the charges against him, “She was very quiet, looking down, closed in,” Weberman said. She slowly opened up, he added, discussing religious questions and problems she had at school and her home.
“At the beginning, we spoke a lot and I spent a lot of time with her to understand what bothers her,” he said. Weberman acknowledged the sessions cost her parents tens of thousands of dollars.
He was asked by his lawyer about the aim of the counseling sessions.
“To save her life,” Weberman replied.

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