For David Framowitz, the world became “a little safer” this week.
That’s because Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who 48-year-old Framowitz says sexually abused him 36 years ago, was arrested last week on unrelated but similar charges. “I’m very, very relieved that justice is finally being done,” Framowitz said Monday in an interview from Israel, where he now lives.
Rabbi Kolko, 60, who left Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Temimah in May after Framowitz filed a $10 million civil suit against the school, was charged last week with sexually abusing a 6-year-old child and an adult man in 2003. At the same time, the child’s parents hit the yeshiva with a fourth lawsuit alleging that it covered up abuses by Rabbi Kolko. The rabbi now faces four counts of sex abuse and one count of endangering a minor. He was released on Friday on $10,000 bail and the case went before a grand jury this week.
It is the first time law enforcement authorities have been involved in the case of Rabbi Kolko, because previous accusations regarded incidents that took place beyond the statute of limitations.
The rabbi’s lawyer, Scott B. Tulman, did not immediately return calls to his office.
As prosecutors warned there could be other criminal charges, Jeffrey Herman — the Florida-based lawyer representing all four plaintiffs against the yeshiva — was in New York this week seeking more information from potential witnesses or plaintiffs.
“I have heard from many other people about this,” Herman said.The yeshiva now faces a total of $40 million in claims. Each of the suits alleges that the yeshiva covered up complaints about Rabbi Kolko, intimidated his accusers and allowed him to continue molesting children.
Marcy Hamilton, a lawyer who has represented a wide range of plaintiffs alleging clergy abuse, said the criminal proceedings will increase the burden on the yeshiva in fighting the civil suits.
“It’s going to be a very hard battle,” said Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School. “If a religious organization wants to avoid having secrets aired in public they are very motivated toward settlement. The problem here is, since they have criminal charges involved, that tells you the statute of limitations, usually the bar in these cases, may not be a problem in [the civil] case. If that’s so, they face very serious liability."
After reviewing the latest complaint, the yeshiva’s lawyer, Avraham Moskowitz, said on Thursday that it “emphatically” denies the allegations.
“The yeshiva did nothing wrong and the yeshiva is confident that when the case is over it will be vindicated,” said Moskowitz.
In a statement to the press, the yeshiva’s executive director, Rabbi Yaakov Applegrad, said “at no time did the yeshiva have any knowledge of anything alleged against Rabbi Kolko, nor did any parent ever come to raise a complaint.”
But Framowitz — who with another defendant, Israel Tsatskis, has taken the rare step of speaking out publicly with his allegations and identifying himself — said on Monday “the senior staff of the yeshiva for three and a half decades has known about it and basically covered it up. Anyone who tried bringing it up to the management was rebuffed or ostracized all these years. Someone has to pay the price for that.”
In an interview with The Jewish Week in August, Tsatskis chronicled how Rabbi Kolko had lured him over the course of a year, first letting him monitor the sixth-grade class he was in and having him do small errands for the rabbi. “I thought I was special because he was taking an interest in me,” Tsatskis said in the interview.
Then, Tsatskis alleged, that favoritism crossed the line and became abusive. Tsatskis said the molestation, which included fondling and groping of his genitals, continued until he completed the eighth grade and graduated middle school.
“I hate that he took away my innocence. I blame so much on him,” Tsatskis, a 31-year-old former U.S. Army soldier living in South Carolina, said in the August interview.
Framowitz made similar charges, first reported in a detailed New York magazine story.
A phone number listed for the school appeared not to be working Tuesday.Framowitz said he hoped the criminal charges would protect other children from harm.
“The only treatment for pedophiles is to keep them away from children,” he said. “There must be dozens or hundreds of other boys out there who have been molested by him over the years.”
Herman said the criminal charges against Rabbi Kolko would not deter the civil cases. “This is about taking back power in their lives,” said the lawyer, adding that his clients greeted the news of the rabbi’s arrest with “mixed emotions.”
“On one hand,” Herman continued, “there is a sense of relief, but it is also a very sad day for many of these victims who tried so hard and hoped they could have stopped it years ago but were unsuccessful.”
The case is being closely watched by critics of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
Two lawyers who monitor Orthodox sex abuse allegations, Michael Lesher and Amy Neustein, recently wrote to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the state’s governor-elect, asking him to appoint a special prosecutor in the case of Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz, a rabbi accused of sexual abuse in 1985 who has taken refuge in Israel.
Hynes has argued that case law prohibits him from seeking Rabbi Mondrowitz’s extradition, a position disputed by many lawyers.