Saying the case against chasidic abuse whistleblower Sam Kellner “seems to have no witnesses,” Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind called on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes “to drop all charges against” Kellner, a constituent of his Borough Park district.
In a press release issued last Thursday, Hikind said that Kellner first approached him in 2008 for counsel after he discovered his son had been molested by Baruch Lebovits, a cantor and prominent member of the Munkacs community. Hikind’s release noted that “was the first elected official in his district to address, the issues of child “abuse.”
Hikind cited several reasons for why the case against Kellner should be dismissed immediately: what he called “recent revelations” by the DA about the unreliability of a key witness in the case, and Hikind’s own determination that a tape recorded conversation — in “Hungarian Yiddish” — brought by Lebovits’ son and that prosecutors have claimed is a “smoking gun” against Kellner, was “mistranslated.”
Hikind reiterated his support for Kellner on his Saturday night radio show, where he interviewed Kellner’s lead attorney, Michael Dowd.
On the broadcast, Dowd deemed the allegations that Kellner was “trying to shake down the Lebovits family ‘insane,’” and noted that Kellner had in fact not only aided in the Lebovits case, but “helped the police and the district attorney’s office in several other cases, helping to bring forward victims and getting them to cooperate with the authorities.”
Dowd also noted that the extortion allegations against Kellner were first brought by Lebovits’ son to the sex crimes prosecutors prosecuting his father who, according to Dowd, rebuffed them. “And then [a year after Lebovits’ conviction], “magically, there was Michael Vecchione — who we have all heard a lot about lately in respect to other wrongful convictions — [who] accepted the case and prosecuted Sam.”
A DA spokesman did not respond to a question asking for confirmation that the office knew about and rejected allegations against Kellner two years before his arrest.
Also last Thursday, a group of about 30 protesters gathered outside Hynes’ Jay Street office to demand the DA drop the charges against Kellner.
Those in attendance included organizer Chaim Levin, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, and anti-abuse advocates Mark Appel, Ben Hirsch and Nuchem Rosenberg. They were by joined by Doreen Giuliano, who believes her son, John Guica, convicted for murder by Hynes in 2005, is innocent, and Derrick Hamilton, who spent over 20 years in jail before being released on parole in 2011. (Hamilton, whose case involved now-discredited Det. Louis Scarcella, is appealing his conviction.)
Both of Hynes’ challengers in the upcoming Democratic primary, Kenneth Thompson and Abe George, also attended the rally.
“What the DA has to explain in the Kellner case is how is it possible that two different units in his office, the Sex Crimes unit, which brought the case against Mr. Lebovits, and the Rackets Division, which brought the case against Mr. Kellner, brought two cases that are diametrically opposed,” Thompson told The Jewish Week at the rally. “It does not make sense. And both of those cases are still pending. How is that possible?”
Thompson added: “What investigation was conducted about the allegations brought against Mr. Kellner before he was indicted? Did Mike Vecchione [the chief of the Rackets Division] sit down with the sex crimes prosecutors and say, ‘We are about to indict Mr. Kellner?’ We need to know all of this. A judge should have been brought into this case to find out what [was] going on. [This case] just shows how dysfunctional the leadership is in the Brooklyn DA’s office.”
Kellner’s legal team has urged that an “outside investigation” be conducted.
According to Abe George, Kellner’s case “is emblematic of what’s wrong with the DA’s office — that the singular consideration is not justice or what the right outcome is, but politics.” Observers have long held that, in cases of alleged sexual abuse in the haredi community, Hynes has deferred to ultra-Orthodox leaders in order to curry political favor.
Shlomo Weiss, who grew up in the chasidic community and was sexually abused by his father for many years, also attended the rally. While he told The Jewish Week he did not know Sam Kellner personally, he showed up because, “If I have taken away anything from my experience, where family members watched me get molested since I was a [child], it is that there is nothing more amoral than watching a kid be molested and keeping quiet.
“That is why it hurts when we see a [good parent like Sam Kellner] not selling out [and reporting an abuser] and being persecuted to historic proportions,” he continued.
What is even worse in this case, Weiss added, is that it appears that Lebovits’ backers, along with the DA “used a [legitimate] victim [of Lebovits] to destroy Kellner.”
A version of this story first appeared last Thursday on The Jewish Week’s website, www.thejewishwek.com.