Freehold, N.J. – Rabbi Baruch Lanner, once a prominent national Orthodox youth group leader and New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was convicted late Thursday of sexually abusing two teenage girls while they were his students in the mid-1990s.
After two days of deliberations, a 12- person jury here found the 52-year-old Rabbi Lanner guilty of endangering the welfare of both girls, the most serious charge. In addition, he was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact and sexual contact against one of the girls, and acquitted of those charges against the other. He was also convicted of harassment against the second girl.
The rabbi is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 13 and faces a maximum 20 years in prison on the two endangering convictions, as well as up to $300,000 in fines.
However, court experts said they expected the prison term to be considerably less, given that this is a first offense and Rabbi Lanner’s standing as a clergyman.
Defense attorney Marvin Schechter said the five-person defense team is considering an appeal.
Speaking to the press for the first time, shortly after his conviction, Rabbi Lanner quoted the Talmudic passage: "Blessed art thou, God, the true judge," customarily recited on hearing of a death.
Rabbi Lanner was released on his own recognizance, but his passport was being held by Monmouth County prosecutors. Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser said Rabbi Lanner cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 18 years of age.
On Friday, Rabbi Lanner and his mother, Augusta, were expected to appear in court and sign an agreement that they are liable for $100,000 if he flees. He is also expected to undergo psychological evaluation at a sexual treatment center in Woodbridge, N.J.
The convictions involve incidents while Rabbi Lanner was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J.
At the same time he was director of regions for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an arm of the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox organization in the country.
During the two-week trial in Monmouth County, before Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet, the women, now 23 and 21, testified that Rabbi Lanner touched their breasts and other body parts through their clothing and had phone conversations with them of a sexual nature.
The women said that when they rebuffed his advances, he retaliated against them in school and at events of NCSY, where they were also members.
"We are very gratified with the outcome of the verdict," said the parents of the 21-year-old, noting they feel she has been vindicated.
The victims testified it was a June 2000 Jewish Week investigation of Rabbi Lanner, which contained interviews with dozens of people who said that he had sexually, physically or psychologically abused them while they were teens, which spurred them to press charges.
Rabbi Lanner resigned the day the article appeared. Several weeks later, the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office launched an investigation. On Dec 26, 2000, the OU issued a report accusing Rabbi Lanner of sexually abusing women and girls and physically abusing boys and girls. The report revealed that OU and NCSY officials had known of the rabbi’s behavior but failed to stop it.