In a move that has caused great concern among some anti-child-abuse advocates in the Jewish community, the Department of Corrections released early from prison this week a chasidic child molester, after he served just under three months of his two-year sentence.
The inmate, Baruch Lebovits, pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of sexual abuse and was sentenced in July by Judge Mark to two years in prison, to be served at Rikers.
In 2010, Lebovits was convicted at trial of the same crimes and sentenced to 10 2/3 to 32 years. But his conviction was reversed on appeal due to an error by the Brooklyn District Attorney and a new trial was ordered (this ultimately resulted in the July plea). At the time of his release on bail in 2011 pending a new trial, Lebovits had served just days over 12 months in an upstate prison.
Typically, someone in Lebovits’ situation would get one-third off his sentence for good behavior, minus the time he had already spent in prison on his earlier, vacated conviction. However, at Lebovits’ plea hearing, Judge Dwyer made it a condition of the sentence that he waive early release.
“Our understanding is that you normally would be released after about 16 months,” Judge Dwyer explained. “The waiver of early release would have the effect of keeping you in some months more, not more than 24, of course, but some months more than 16.”
When asked if he understood, Lebovits replied, “Yes.” The judge then noted, “Obviously [you would] expect to get credit for the jail time you’ve already done.”
Judge Dwyer’s statements would appear to put Lebovits’ remaining sentence, after his July guilty plea, at a minimum, somewhere around seven months.
Calls to the Department of Corrections seeking an explanation as to how the sentence was calculated were not returned. But Niall MacGiollabhui, the lawyer for an alleged Lebovits victim, was able to confirm with the DOC that Lebovits was released early “for good behavior,” despite his apparent waiver upon making his guilty plea.
Judge Dwyer’s law secretary would not comment on the matter, but The Jewish Week obtained information that there was nothing on the Order of Commitment — the court’s formal sentencing order, a copy of which is delivered to the Department of Corrections when a prisoner is placed into custody — that reflected early-release provisions. This would seem to suggest that there was either an error in the drafting of the order, or a change in the sentencing agreement after the plea hearing; the latter, experts say, could happen only with the agreement of the prosecution, the defense and the judge, and made on the record.
In response to an email seeking an explanation of the calculation of Lebovits’ sentence, his attorney, Arthur Aidala, told The Jewish Week, “You would have to contact the Department of Corrections. They do all the calculations.” A spokeswoman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, declined to comment.
“This is scandalous,” the anti-abuse activist and blogger, known as Yerachmiel Lopin, told The Jewish Week.
“Either the DA secretly agreed to unnecessarily allow early release, or Lebovits found a way to get the Department of Corrections to violate the terms of the court’s sentencing order. Either way, Orthodox sex abuse survivors are despairing of being able to count on justice even when they bear the burden.”