Saturday, January 2, 2016

Pearl Reich Part 2 - an Outing to Forget

On Thursday morning, I was alerted to a Facebook post by Pearl Perry Reich that effectively outed someone who currently lives in the orthodox community as a lesbian and secretly OTD (off the derech aka not religious). My first response was to call Pearl but I got no response. When I messaged her she blocked my number and my messages weren’t going through. I then messaged her husband Shauli who was tagged in this post but his response was even more troubling. He essentially told me that because the person in this post had spoken negatively about Pearl five years ago when Pearl was going through her custody saga, she deserved to be outed this way.

When Pearl became famous a couple of years ago she was seen as a hero to many people who lost their children in custody battles because they chose not to stay religious. The outcome of many of these cases had nothing to do with whether the parents involved were good or bad parents but rather which one had enough support from their religious community to fight their ex with years of legal proceedings and legal fees that range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then there was Pearl Reich: she and her boyfriend  sat proudly on National TV and finally said what so many of us were thinking, that parents shouldn’t lose custody over their children simply because they chose not to live a religious lifestyle anymore.

But what felt like a moment of triumph in OTD history of finally fighting back, what was almost like a Stonewall moment created something that would finally come back to haunt us and is now knocking on our doorstep. By being so public about their journey, Shauli and Pearl acquired thousands of followers. The fact that Pearl was never shy about her looks helped this too (I personally have no issue with people showing off their assets if they can benefit from it). They became very popular in many circles but at the same time as was frequently the case when speaking out against religious communities years ago, they became even more hated and talked about, which in turn only made them even more popular in the online communities. This created the brand that would become known as “Save Penina’s Children” which was talked about as a support group that was supposed to help people going through similar custody battles. Perl Reich’s formal name is Pennina and the group was spearheaded by her and Shauli.

Fast-forward to three years later. Tens of people have come forward to me personally and said that Pearl or her organization didn’t in fact ever help them or anyone they know. I have yet to meet someone who was able to provide a reliable example of how Pearl actually helped them even though she had a Facebook group with over 2,000 members that was rumored to have been turned into a nonprofit that helps parents fighting religious communities over custody (Save Penina’s children). During these last few days, since my open letter to them on Facebook  that I called out Pearl Reich for this terrible “outing”, a few people popped up on my Facebook page to claim that they were helped somehow by Pearl but couldn’t provide any legitimate examples of how. It was obvious that these people just wanted to defend Pearl’s disturbing post. In the meantime, there are many many parents in the OTD world that are going through terrible custody battles and the group that was once updated hourly by Pearl about all the people they were supposedly helping is nowhere to be seen or heard from in these custody cases. They aren’t featured on  the Doctor Phil show or on the second page of the New York Post.

The thing is, with all this popularity comes a very powerful tool and that’s the ability to send a message to thousands of people within seconds by posting it publicly on your Facebook page or twitter feed. This is a tool and a privilege that needs to be used responsibly but has not been in the case of these people.

I can cite so many examples of outrageous statements that they’ve made over these last few years but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, there are basic rules, golden rules as some call them, that you NEVER EVER break under any circumstances. A golden rule in the LGBTQ community, a rule that I broke accidentally when I was young, new and stupid but never publicly, is that you do not out someone, ESPECIALLY not publicly. What was even worse, the person that was outed was also described by Pearl as OTD (off the derech) which put this person at risk of losing her own child.

Some have said that this was a personal fight and it was not our place to get involved, I disagree. When more details about the personal fight emerged, it became clear as day that Pearl’s decision was made AFTER this person had apologized for speaking negatively about her years ago and AFTER she begged Pearl not to disclose this information to the world. She even offered to pay them not to release this information but they responded by saying that the only way for the past to be in the past is for them to get even.

Some people have correctly pointed out that there isn’t an official OTD “community”. We are just a bunch of people who happen to be on or off the same path, depending oh how you describe it. But don’t be fooled, none of us represent each other or are responsible for the choices of others who live the same lifestyles as us.

Most of us were prepared to put this in the past having known that we did what we felt like was our responsibility to call out an immoral act  that was being perpetrated by someone who claimed to have high moral standards. By outing this person, Pearl Reich put this person’s custody of her child at risk. Is that really the only way for one to be forgiven? The only way to receive penance from Pearl Reich is to let her do to you exactly what you did to her? And either way, what this person supposedly did to Pearl five years ago was FIVE years ago and this person repeatedly apologized for it. Gandhi once said that “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” That quote is very appropriate for this situation because if Pearl was really intent on making sure that this person was accountable she would have been a grown up and showed her that this is how you publicly treat people, like a mature responsible adult with grace who knows how to forgive. After all, isn’t that what’s supposed to make our community unique? But, the choice to out this person in the way that she did, she acted exactly like the community that she escaped and has criticized relentlessly over these last few years.

Finally, on Thursday evening, Shauli threatened a married couple that was once friends with them. They warned this couple that unless they removed their posts about Pearl and Shauli, they would release graphic sexual material of this married couple for the world to see. In some circles that is called revenge porn, some people call it blackmail, and our legal code calls it a crime that could land you in prison.  To make matters worse, they are still threatening this couple as of 430pm today (January 2nd) demanding that they better meet them or else they will “publicize everything they know about them.”

Is this the type of dirty behavior that we are supposed to emulate? Are they the types examples of having successfully left the religious community and successfully kept their children?

I want people to know that it wasn’t easy to come to this decision to write these things but I truly believe that this information must be known to the world. This needs to be a moment in our history where we look around at ourselves and ask: is someone automatically fit to be a good parent just because they decided to go Off the Derech? Because based on the way Pearl and Shauli have chosen to treat so many of their peers, I can only hope that they aren’t raising their children to treat people in the same way.

To Pearl and Shauli, I’m not sorry that the truth is finally coming out but I hope you will use this as a lesson in life to never blackmail anyone ever again. We are not a mob, we are a group of people who believe in right and wrong the same way you claimed to have all these years, and we know that what you did on Thursday morning and the subsequent threats were wrong and are not something we are willing to tolerate. If you choose to release any sexual or graphic images of anyone please know that the authorities will be involved and you will be charged accordingly.

If you really want to put this behind you then you need to publicly apologize for your behavior and take responsibility for your actions and your actions alone. The person who you outed took responsibility for what she did to you a long time ago by apologizing to you numerous times and begging for your forgiveness BEFORE mercilessly outed her. I’m sure that had you not decided to publicly reveal such private details of her life, she would’ve considered apologizing publicly to you too. But it’s too little too late now and the only way history will ever have any mercy on you is if we know that you and others understand that using people's sexual orientation or other private details like their current religious status that they revealed to you in confidence, is not a card that you get to play without very serious repercussions.

I hope that in the coming year, we as a community will come together not for tragedies and public fights like this one, but rather to celebrate our accomplishments and better moments. It feels like too frequently we are coming together for a funeral or memorial, or a major online debate like this one that has dominated our lives over these past few days.





















Friday, January 1, 2016

2015

Dear readers,

I know that it's been a long time since I've written something new on this blog. Most of my writing has turned into Facebook posts that have appear on my Facebook page but they're not as concentrated as these blog posts were and that's definitely something that I miss about blogging.

I'm currently focusing on being back in college and working full time. At the same time though, I've been very actively working on a support group for people from the Chabad community who are LGBTQ. This group is a private group on Facebook that has 71 members in just one week. I've also created a fan page that people can like in order to show support for their fellow Chabad friends and family who are LGBTQ.

This past year I've been fortunate to see the downfall of a terrible organization named JONAH. It was an honor to be part of this effort but it was a grueling process that almost costed me my sanity. You can read more about the case in this amazing article published by Newsweek just a few weeks ago. If you google JONAH and or conversion therapy you can find more details about the case too. You are also welcome to read the trial transcripts here. I am hopeful that by educating the world about programs like the one JONAH ran, others will never have to go through what so many of us were subjected to because of our sexual orientation.

I am hopeful that 2016 will be even better than this past year and I look forward to celebrating many more accomplishments with you all.

Thank you,

Chaim Levin

Monday, January 5, 2015

When it's Someone you Know: Levi Moscowitz

I’ve been torn inside and out ever since I found out that someone who I otherwise knew to be a good friendly guy, someone that I shared good memories in yeshiva with, pleaded no contest to one of the most heinous crimes that has ever come across the arsenal of cases that I’m personally familiar with.


Levi Moscowitz committed suicide on Saturday in Griffith park in Los Angeles. This came just weeks after the charges against him as well as a very damning police report became public. Despite having known Levi for over 10 years and once considering him a close friend, I knew that sharing this information with the public was crucial to the safety of any and all children that he may have come into contact with. At the same time though, his death brings about some very unfortunate realities and issues that have yet to be addressed when confronting this cancer of sexual abuse.


While there are many who have expressed no remorse over his death, and others who even seemed to rejoice in it, I don’t think these people realize how Levi’s death is a loss for everyone. Most of us want to see an end or at least some respite for the millions of people who are suffering from having been victims of sexual abuse, and there are also many of us who know that we have to face the perpetrator and the issues they face as well. For every comment out there directed at Levi posthumously, comments that while they were directed at Levi himself, were also aimed at other pedophiles and potential pedophiles, an opportunity to learn from these people and how to help them, and maybe even prevent them, drifts farther and farther away.


As Jewish Community Watch correctly pointed out many times, there are many individuals who struggle with the inclination to hurt children but choose not to. And then there are the ones who do but spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for it. And of course, there are the ones who who don’t ever realize or accept their wrongdoings and choose not to take responsibility for them, or even worse, brag about their crimes. Levi fell into the last category. In the aforementioned police report Levi is said to have bragged about what he had done to other innocent victims. Indeed, anyone who read that police report was able to deduce the unfortunate reality that Levi Moscowitz was a very very sick person.


The thing is, while he was sick and had been on this downward spiraling path for quite some time already (18 months ago I expressed concern to a few mutual friends about the things he was doing in LA), there are many of us who didn’t know him as this dark tormented dangerous predator. We simply knew him as someone who was a friend, a brother, a son, a classmate. The hardest part for all of us was accepting that this person we knew and loved had these demons and was capable of such horrible things. None of us dug our heads in the sand and pretended these things weren’t true, but we also didn’t make it our mission to let him know that he was a sick person not worthy of living in this world. No, we wanted him to know that while we judged him for his crimes, he was still the Levi we once knew and we still hoped there was a chance that he would change his path and attempt to make amends for his crimes and maybe even help us learn from others like him in order to prevent and be more aware of the warning signs with such people in the future.


I don’t know exactly why I decided to write this honestly. It was just last week that I told multiple people that I was afraid of this very thing happening. It was clear that Levi was moving downhill fast and that there was nothing any of us could’ve done about it, but it’s still heartbreaking nonetheless.


I respectfully ask that those who didn’t know him personally remember that he was someone’s child, friend, brother. Those people are and have the full right to grieve for him. By telling those people that their friend is better off dead you aren’t contributing to this epidemic and are only adding to those peoples’ pain. While some might think that it’s ideal for all pedophiles to kill themselves, nothing could be further from the truth. If we don’t give these people a chance to do right by their crimes or to seek help before they commit them, how can we expect them to come to us and ask for help? After all, we KNOW that there are others who haven’t committed any crimes and want help.

In conclusion I’d like to wish my deepest condolences to his family and friends who knew him. Many of us started mourning him a long time ago but as long as he was still alive there was always the chance that maybe one day he would try and do right by his past and use it to make the world a safer place. In death, he will never be able to do that because death is the only thing that’s ever final. Please remember that while we categorically condemn his actions, there are other Levi’s out there who deserve the chance to not only try and atone for their crimes, but also the ones who never committed a crime against a child and want to do everything they can in order to avoid doing so.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Personal Statement

Dear friends and everyone else,


As many of you know, I got married a little over six months ago. The decision to get married was not one that I made overnight, but still, in hindsight it was a decision that I was too young and immature to make.


Out of respect to my community and soon to be ex husband, I do not intend to get into much detail over why our relationship didn’t work out, and why just two months after we got married we already separated. While I wish I could’ve done things differently, I have no regrets and am taking my past mistakes and turning them into valuable life lessons for the future.


I am spending more time focusing on trying to rebuild ties with my family as well as getting ready for my return to college this January.


I thank all of you for your support during these trying few years of my life. I’ve gotten support from some of the most unexpected places and this support has been a lifeline to me. I hope to continue paying it forward by emphasizing the importance of supporting other people during hard times.  


These last five years in the public eye have been a journey that many of you have been on together with me and I am forever indebted to the people who have had my back during the good times and the bad ones too.


Chaim Levin



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Re: We Are Under attack by the LGBTPed Community

On the average Wednesday I tend to ignore Yeshiva World News but today Rabbi Yair Hoffman's cry about religious freedom being under attack because telling underage minors that they can be cured from being gay is becoming more and more frowned upon (for good reason).

Let's just cut to the chase on this one:

-Religious freedom doesn't give you the right to promote unlicensed self proclaimed professionals to tell kids who are already confused that their sexuality is their fault and is something that can be cured.

-Religious freedom doesn't mean that you can send your kids to anyone you want for treatment, especially if this treatment is known to cause serious harm to many (myself included).

-Forcing children into conversion therapy against their will is NOT a parent's right, and any parent who tries to do this to their children should be prosecuted for child abuse.

I wonder if Rabbi Hoffman is concerned about the countless underage LGBT kids that are kicked out of their homes, yeshivas and communities because of their orientation.

I also wonder if Rabbi Hoffman is concerned about the methods that these so called professionals use, including but not limited to blaming their parents for their orientation, and most notably being coerced to strip naked in a locked room with an unlicensed "professional".

Stop using religious freedom as an excuse to justify abuse. If a cancer patient (a REAL illness) who is a minor is forced by his parents to see a self proclaimed professional and not a real doctor to deal with his illness and then they die, thees parents would be easily liable for his death. In this case, there is no real illness other than the potential long term very harmful effects of such so called therapies.

It would be in Hoffman's best interest to focus on real problems facing religious communities if that's what he really cares about.

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/editorial/210374/op-ed-we-are-under-attack-by-the-lgbtped-community.html

Ps. It's LGBTQIA (if you cared) - the added PED is not only not funny but also indicative of how quickly people seemed to forget that the nazis came for the Jews and for gay people too.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Unabashedly Public

Over the last three years, as I’ve written and spoken about some very personal experiences in my life, I’ve received much praise for my bravery, encouragement from others who were motivated to share their stories and come forward, and my voice has never felt louder or more powerful than ever. When I was younger, I used to have nightmares in which I was attempting to scream at the top of my lungs, I was trying to scream about the pain I was feeling, the injustices that I suffered, and the way they were ignored. Today, I no longer have that dream anymore.

Ever since I found my voice and started writing publicly, there hasn’t been a single day that’s gone by where I looked back and regretted my decision. Whether it was talking about being sexually abused for 4 years during my childhood, undergoing so called conversion therapy to try and become straight or shedding light on other people’s plights and raising awareness through them, it’s always been more rewarding than regretful. Some people have chosen to judge me and label me as a “professional victim,” but as far as I’m concerned if that’s what it takes to get said people to talk about these issues that otherwise go ignored, I’m happy to be a professional victim.

I have many detractors out there, some of whom I know but most of whom I don’t know. It pleases me to know that I’ve earned detractors because that means I was part of the important process that forces people to confront issues that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about because they elected to ignore them. Whether it was about the student in Chicago who was put on notice and threatened with expulsion for going public about her past as a rape survivor; the guy who grew up orthodox and got married even though he was gay; the lack of education in many ultra orthodox communities; and many others, I’m proud that I was able to contribute at least one bit in lending a voice to the voiceless.

I don’t represent any group of people, I am an individual who made a decision to share parts of my personal life with the rest of the world in the hopes that someone would benefit through them. I am so thankful to all my supporters and to all the people who constantly encourage me to write more, the ones who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and I truly do hope that there will come a time where no one ever feels like they’re screaming on the top of their lungs but can’t be heard.

Lots of love.

Chaim Levin

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Allegations Against Employee at JEM Center In Los Angeles Spark Uproar

8/6/13


Los Angeles, CA --  An event was held last night by Jewish parents in Beverly Hills who were concerned about the claims of abuse leveled against counselor/director of JEM center Mendel Tevel. The event was hosted in the home of Esther Abehsera and was organized by Meyer Seewald, director of Jewish Community Watch. In attendance were Deputy District Attorney Rabbi Benny Forer, and one of Tevel’s numerous alleged victims that agreed to talk to the crowd without using his name. About 50 people attended the event that was announced just four hours before it was scheduled to take place. The victim agreed to talk on the condition that people would leave phones and recording devices at the door, with the hope that by telling his story to a large group of people, the charges against Tevel would be taken more seriously because someone agreed to speak in front of a real live audience.


The alleged victim now 23, told the crowd that he was 14 when the abuse occurred. With his wife by his side, he recounted how when he was 14 years old he attended “Shterns” Yeshiva in Upstate New York.“When I was 14, I was in Yeshiva. We called it Shterns. Mendel Tevel was my Mashpia (mentor) and teacher. It started out when it became a big thing in school to work out, lift weights. Tevel offered to be my personal trainer, and he would push me to work harder and harder, and one time he in order to make me work harder he would whip me with a metal. hanger. And from then on, If i stopped working out I’d get whacked in the back with a metal hanger. I had marks, I bled, and I had cuts.” He further alleged that the abuse escalated “After a few days of working out with him, he started offering me messages to relax my muscles so that I wouldn’t be sore that day. After a few times he got into bed with me and sat on top of me to give me a message. I hate to be a little bit vulgar but while he was giving me the massage he was “dry humping me.” "From there it progressed where every day he tried to get me to go to the mikva before Shachris (prayer service). He offered to go with me personally because I didn’t like to be part of the large crowd that go together. One day it was really cold and it was so cold that there was a layer of ice over the Mikvah and I didn’t want to go in. Tevel came up behind me and started smacking me on my behind, and I realized that Tevel had an erection.” It was in that moment that the victim says he realized that something was “not quite right” with their connection and maintains that he distanced himself from Tevel from that point on.


Last week, on a Facebook group called LA Mommies, a member of the group posted her concern about the allegations in Tevel's past and his involvement with JEM center. In her post (which has since been deleted), she alleged that she was contacted by a concerned parent who had heard that Tevel was working at JEM high school. The thread quickly escalated, and one parent, a mother of three wanted to make sure other parents knew about the allegations against Tevel.


This mother said that she was “deeply concerned,” when she saw a Facebook post by Devorah Wagshul, sister in law of Mendel Tevel about JEM with the caption “Ran by the best directors, Aka Bracha and Mende[l]”, attached was a recent Facebook post by JEM Hebrew High. Upon further investigation, this flyer was found on JEM’s website, the phone number lists Brocha Illulian as the contact person for the program. Bracha Illulian is the wife of Mendel Tevel.




After calls to JEM center, a woman who would only identify herself as Chelsea said that “We’re safe here, there’s really not an issue, everyone already knows that there’s no issue.” When asked if Tevel was still part of the staff at JEM she said that “There’s no issue, everyone’s safe, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing happened. Everyone knows this, these are false accusations... and, he didn’t do this, to anybody. They’re lying.”  

JEM Center, which was founded by Rabbi Hertzel illulian in 1984, was once connected to Chabad but has since separated from the movement and operates independently.

Other attendees of the event recounted their own personal stories of being abused when they were minors. One of them, Mordy Gluckowsky alleges that he was abused by his dorm counselor at a Chabad yeshiva abroad, but when he notified the principal of his school he was expelled two days later.


According to David Smith*, he was sexually abused and assaulted by Tevel repeatedly when he was 14/15 years old. David recounts moments where Tevel “whacked him” on his rear with a leather belt; he also recalls multiple incidents of oral sex being performed on him by Tevel. David, who grew up in the Crown Heights community still has the ability to press charges against Tevel for another few months but is reluctant to do so because of what he describes as "strong family pressure and community pressure" placed upon him not to do anything to Tevel. David alleges that he was contacted by a member of the Tevel family and was offered money in exchange for his silence, David says he didn’t accept this offer but is still very reluctant to come forward.


A third alleged victim of Tevel who is past the statute of limitations recounted how Tevel would lure him the basement of his parents’ home when he was around the ages of 6 and 7 years old by offering him candy and the use of his game boy. “He would tie me up to the trampoline and would whip me on my backside with a belt, sometimes with my clothes on and sometimes with my clothes off.” This alleged victim’s testimony is very similar to that of other victims who say that aside from the sexual abuse they endured by Tevel, there was a significant amount of physical assault perpetrated against them by Tevel with leather belts in their backside area.


A letter written by members of the Jewish community has already acquired almost 75 signatures within 24 hours. The letter offers support and encouragment to victims of Tevel to come forward. The reason for writing this letter according Seewald was because “we want to show the victims how much support there already is out there, public support for them. There are so many people who are anonymously offering their support, that's not good enough anymore.” As this story continues to grow, many people in the Los Angeles communities are unsure if their children are safe at JEM center. Some mothers are alleging that Tevel sometimes goes to the Hebrew High school in Beverly Hills to put on Tefilin with younger teenagers. Other parents expressed concern about Brocha Illulian, Tevel’s wife who would frequently stand near their children’s schools and hands out flyers promoting JEM’s upcoming events.


Seewald, who attempted to alert the Illulian family before Tevel was engaged to their daughter said: “I went directly to Rabbi Hertzel Illulian when I heard that his daughter was getting engaged to Tevel. Rabbi Illulian outright dismissed the possibility that Tevel still poses a danger to children, and when I told him the graphic details given to me by one of Tevel’s victims in which the victim described Tevel performing oral sex on him, Illulian asked me if “he [the victim] enjoyed it”. A response that even for Seewald, who claims to have heard about so many similar stories, shocked him. "He tried to blame the victim by implying that because he might have enjoyed it, it was his fault."

Seewald remarked that the event "was revolutionary." "For the first time in two years a victim got up and talked to parents for the sake of protecting children even though he knew that people may find out his identity. I’ve never seen a victim empowering so many other people to talk. I hope that people learn from this that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. People should see that coming forward is not just something that will help the public, but it will also help victims heal from their personal trauma.” He ended off by saying that he hopes that this turn of events will set a better precedent for victims of the Chabad community in Crown Heights. "We have almost 70 signatures by now, but hardly any of them are from members of the Crown Heights community, where Tevel committed many of his alleged crimes." Seewald said that this event was a very emotional one for him, and he hopes that the Crown Heights and greater Chabad communities will follow the example set by the people who attended this event and also by the people who signed the letter of support.

*name changed per victim's request







Wednesday, July 10, 2013

MEDIA ADVISORY: Abuse Advocates to Protest Charges Against Heroic Whistleblower

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

WHAT: Abuse Advocates to Protest Charges Against Heroic Whistleblower

WHERE: 350 Jay Street, Brooklyn NY 11201

WHEN: Thursday July 11th at 11am

Contact: Chaim Levin
Chaim89@gmail.com
Ph: 917-293-3674

Brooklyn, New York - July 10, 2013 - Today, members of several large abuse advocacy organizations announced that they would be joining together this Thursday to protest unfounded charges from the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes's office against Sam Kellner, a father who reported his son's allegations and heroically encouraged others to do the same against notorious abuser Boruch Lebovitz in 2010.

Kellner stands falsely accused of having blackmailed a witness into testifying against Lebovitz but as reported in The New York Times and The Jewish Week, prosecutors recently told the trial judge that they found their key witness was unreliable despite Kellner's defense having asked the DA for a month to look into the credible allegation that the witness against Kellner was being manipulated.  Furthermore despite the case being unprosecutable at this point the DA has still refused to drop the charges.  Said witness has changed his story on several occasions and has been found to have been receiving money for expenses from an activist in the Orthodox Jewish community, Zalmen Ashkenazi, a Lebovitz supporter he previously claimed he did not know.

"Sam Kellner is a father who sought justice for his son," said activist Chaim Levin, the organizer of the protest. "He has been on trial for 28 months and is facing 21 years in prison. We ask Charles Hynes to think of the Biblical dictate tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice, you shall pursue and ask himself: Is this justice?"

The protest will be held on 11:00 a.m. at 350 Jay Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 on July 11, 2013.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

D.A. CANDIDATE KEN THOMPSON TO HYNES: FIRE PROSECUTOR AFTER PATTERN OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS AND SERIOUS MISCONDUCT


 






D.A. CANDIDATE KEN THOMPSON TO HYNES: FIRE PROSECUTOR AFTER PATTERN OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS AND SERIOUS MISCONDUCT

Hynes' Top Aide Was Deposed In Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit; Now Another High-Profile Vecchione Prosecution Has Collapsed
 
Thompson: We Need Accountability For Prosecutorial Misconduct Under Hynes’ Watch
 
Federal Judge Blasts D.A’s ‘Underhanded’ And ‘Horrific’ Misconduct, Was “Disturbed” That Hynes Refused To Punish ADA Vecchione
 
BROOKLYN – As another high-profile prosecution has fallen apart under D.A. Hynes’ watch, former federal prosecutor and candidate for Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson called on the D.A. to fire Michael Vecchione, the embattled prosecutor who has overseen these cases, as one step towards restoring integrity to the office. In a “dramatic reversal,” Hynes told a judge this week, in a court appearance in a case involving an Orthodox man accused of paying a child to falsely testify that he was a victim of sexual abuse, that the prosecution’s key witness was not trustworthy after evidence emerged that the witness had received money from supporters of the accused sex predator.
 
"With a record tarnished by wrongful convictions and unprecedented condemnation from judges, D.A. Hynes has become the nation's number one example for prosecutorial misconduct," said former federal prosecutor and D.A. candidate Ken Thompson. "There is something very disturbing about Hynes’ judgment when he promotes a prosecutor who has botched one case after the next, and whose alleged misconduct -- including the coercion of false testimony, lies in court and intimidation of witnesses -- caused a man to have been likely wrongfully imprisoned for over 15 years. Enough is enough. If Hynes has any interest in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system, he would fire ADA Vecchione immediately. As Brooklyn D.A., I will fight to ensure that innocent New Yorkers are not locked up for crimes they didn’t commit, and that prosecutors are held accountable - not promoted - when they violate the public trust.”
 
In recent weeks, ADA Vecchione testified that potentially criminal conduct occurred in the D.A’s office, including the repeated unlawful forging of his signature in affidavits, in a $150 million lawsuit that reportedly unearthed "damning evidence of misconduct by prosecutors in the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.” The D.A. himself will face questions in a deposition next month. 
 
Now new details have emerged in a separate botched case. D.A. Hynes has been attempting to prosecute Sam Kellner, a father who accused a prominent Hasidic cantor, Baruch Lebovits, of sexually abusing his son and other children in the orthodox community.  After Lebovits' conviction, Hynes then prosecuted Kellner after allegations emerged from a victim who testified against Lebovits that the witness had testified only because Kellner paid him $10,000.

Lebovits’s lawyers used the Kellner prosecution to have his conviction overturned. Now Hynes' case against Kellner, overseen by ADA Vecchione, has fallen apart as a result of evidence that the witness who had made the accusations against Kellner had accepted payments from Lebovits’s supporters.  According to reports, "that money went to paying for his lawyer; his travel to and from Israel, where he is a student; his apartment; and his school fees."

In addition, according to news reports, Lebovitz's attorney Arthur Aidala "is a campaign contributor to Mr. Hynes and the vice president of Mr. Hynes’ nonprofit foundation" and "has boasted to prosecutors about his access to and influence with Mr. Hynes and Mr. Vecchione."
 
Jabbar Collins Case
 
The Kellner case is not the only recent example of D.A. Hynes allowing senior prosecutors engaging in misconduct. 
 
A separate civil lawsuit against Hynes was filed by Jabbar Collins, who served 16 years in prison for a murder he likely did not commit and was released after providing evidence that ADA Vecchione coerced false testimony to secure his conviction. Despite extraordinary criticism from a federal judge, who called ADA Vecchione's conduct "horrific" and said that he was "disturbed" and "puzzled" that the D.A. did not punish him, Hynes not only praised his top aide, but had promoted him to chief of the office's Rackets bureau. He now stars along with Hynes in a CBS reality television show. 
 
According to reports, in the Collins case:
 
  • A key witness that initially claimed that he had seen Collins running from the scene had admitted under oath that ADA Vecchione threatened to hit him with a coffee table and make him stay in jail unless he testified.
  • A second witness had recanted his claim that he was present when Collins allegedly plotted the murder, but ADA Vecchione never turned that information over to Collins' defense lawyer.
  • ADA Vecchione also threatened to keep that second witness in jail unless he testified against Collins.
  • A third witness claimed ADA Vecchione cut him a deal in which he would testify against Collins in exchange for clearing a probation violation. This, too, was withheld from Collins' defense lawyer.
  • Following the release of Jabbar Collins, Hynes issued a press release addressing the reversal of the conviction. In that press release, Hynes announced that Vecchione would not be investigated or punished because, in Hynes' opinion, he had done nothing wrong.
 
Just weeks ago in the same lawsuit, a former investigator revealed in a sworn deposition that, under the guidance of D.A. Hynes, law enforcement officials from the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office held witnesses in hotel rooms against their will and without judicial intervention. The filing also revealed that prosecutors used forged, falsely "sworn" applications to obtain warrants to then arrest and detain individuals who were merely prospective witnesses. 
 
These practices could potentially constitute a violation of a wide range of criminal statutes, including forgery, filing of a false instrument, fraud by a notary, as well as the aiding and abetting of these crimes. In addition, these practices may have run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits arrest warrants without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

He Was Adam

Dear Friends,


In light of the recent historical rulings in the supreme court on gay rights issues, conversations about gay marriage have been taking place all across the blogosphere but most interestingly lots of these debates have been among orthodox Jews. I’ve chosen to remain relatively silent, despite some of the most outrageous comments I’ve seen written by self-proclaimed orthodox Jews against gay people through name calling, illogical arguments and irrational reasons to be heartless and bigoted. The bottom line is that progress is marching on, our rights are finally being acknowledged despite the opposition. Yet at the same time, I believe that this is a great opportunity to engage some of these people and at best hopefully give them a glimpse into the struggle of minorities like LGBT people and in that token, hopefully hold impact in order to create tangible change and make life better for the next generation of our brothers and sisters.


I give you this incredible story about a boy named Adam, who struggled with his identity, much like myself. This story is completely fictional but the characters in it represent the real life struggles that many LGBT Jewish people, specifically formerly orthodox people face on a daily basis.  


-Chaim Levin



He was Adam.     
By Mimi Minsky


It is night outside, and a few of the Shabbat candles are still burning when Adam disappears through the exit door off the side of the kitchen. His parents and siblings are sleeping soundly upstairs and the dishes have nearly dried, resting on an old dish towel on the black marble countertop. While Adam first joined his family for the customary Friday night Shabbat dinner; donned in a starched white buttoned down shirt and his old black slacks, it is the second part of his night where the real Adam comes alive.


The music blares loudly, sending waves of vibrations through his body and he has to shout above the bass to catch the attention of the group of friends he has come to meet. He calls them friends, but only for the sole commonality they share; they all want to forget. It sounds and looks like a club, but really it is in an old Brooklyn apartment where Adam and his group gather together each Friday night after joining their own families for Shabbat dinner. One girl, Hanna, passes him a joint across the glass coffee table. At first Adam felt guilty coming to these parties, on Shabbat no less, but lately the feelings had seemed to dissipate, dissolving into a pungent cloud of smoke. Like Adam, after taking a couple of hits from his joint, that guilt is gone.


Adam and his friends are not alone. In fact, there are many groups similar to his own. Young teens and 20-somethings, part of ultra orthodox Jewish communities who maintain the appropriate garb while inside of their homes, and later, literally stripping themselves of their religion when in the outside world. Yet, their religion is all they know. Since birth they were taught the Halachot  (Jewish laws) of the Torah: “Thou shalt not steal, do not use G-D's name in vain…Keep the Sabbath.” Nevertheless, over time, and by route of their own experiences, they have reached an undiscovered clearing. On their own, they began to form new opinions and ideas that were no longer merely black or white. Because the truth was, Adam and his friends no longer identified with the identity that has been chosen for them since birth. They now wanted to choose for themselves.


And so, Adam is on the edge. Standing firmly, he knows the ground beneath him is safe, if familiar somehow. He struggles with the fear of the unknown; of having to choose for himself. He stands by the edge, and looking down he hears the words over and over again in his mind. To jump or not to jump, that is the ultimate question Adam asks himself daily. One foot planted on solid ground and the other, a kind of suicide in his step. On this Friday night, he is one step closer to making that jump.

Here is Adam's Story:


Adam is not merely a boy wrestling with his orthodox roots and the life he’s trying to create for himself which defy his upbringing, and he isn’t just a boy who likes to smoke pot. With these secrets, Adam is harboring another secret. You see, Adam is gay. Adam  wasn't always gay. At least that was what he had been told. The rabbis, they told him, "Adam, this is a phase." And then further, "G-d has no room in his world for homosexuals." So Adam had tried. He had really tried to get better. Better, because he felt sick all the time. At school, he wanted desperately to be at home, and when he was home, he wanted to be at school. There was no place for someone like him.  His family didn't know him, his friends from school turned away when he glanced in their direction, and his own father; his childhood hero, no longer understood who he was. A son who no longer seemed like his son at all; Adam was a stranger in his own home. In fact, he had become a stranger to everyone around him; a quiet mystery. So quiet, he was fading into obscurity.


So Adam read. He wrote in his journal. But mostly, he stayed in his room. On weekends, his mother would urge him to spend time with friends. "Maybe go meet some of those friends of yours, Adam." She'd smile, all the while trying desperately to mask her anxiety, the worry surfacing from behind her nervous eyes.


In Yeshivah (religious school), Adam had learned about Baalei Teshuvot. They were special, he had been told growing up. These were people that had lost G-d somewhere along the way only to come back to Him, stronger and more subservient. Adam felt like that, like he had lost G-d. The only difference was that Adam wasn't hoping to find Him again.


After high school, he had fought to attend college. His father had petitioned, arguing with Adam that the classes were coed, "mixed", and therefore unsuitable for a religious boy like him. It was a school that focused on arts and Adam thought that maybe he would finally feel like himself again. He could write like he used to and perhaps, he would even write a book.


But then, there was Sam. He was the mirror Adam could no longer escape.
They took art history together and Sam hadn't tried to hide his interest in Adam. Electricity ran like a current between them when they first shook hands. Sam was everything. Adam became his everything.


Spring, right after Passover, Sam broke up with Adam. Adam’s secrecy and staunch refusal to tell his parents about who he really was, ultimately tore them apart. Sam had met someone while Adam had been away through the holiday. Perhaps, he thought, if Sam and he were broken up, he could pretend that it had all never really happened. Though he knew this wasn’t possible, he resented Sam for introducing him to his family. He had met Sam's family many times. They knew what Adam had meant to him. He had promised him and them that one day he too, would tell his own parents everything and that they would love Sam like he loved Sam. But he was too driven by fear and couldn’t tell them in time, and He never got the chance. He would never have that chance now.


Sam had parents who had loved him. Would there ever be hope for Adam?


Adam had questions without any answers. He wanted someone to tell him who to be, what to be and how to be it.


Who was he anyway, he often mused. He didn't really know. Sometimes he felt like he had imagined Sam. A character he had conjured up in his mind. But then he'd look at the mark on the outside of his palm, a scar he had gotten from a wine glass that had accidentally broken at dinner and he’d know the truth. "It's not a scar, Sam had corrected him; it's a memory."


Adam was gay. He was gay and he was tired of pretending to hate himself. He grew tired of the torrent of lies, spilling from his lips. But mostly, he was tired of living without being able to live at all.


His father had shoved him angrily against his bedroom door. His rabbis; they had told him.
“You are a Faygale (Yiddish for faggot)” he had spit, the words like venom seeping into Adam’s soul. “ You are not a real man. Music and Art is frivolity. I am a respected doctor. You are not welcome. You betrayed us. You are not my son. Get out.”


A few weeks had passed when his sister, Leora, found a carefully written note left on his bedside table.



The Note:


Know that I was a man.
I was a man until I allowed myself defeat.
I was a man even when I had been told otherwise.
I was a gay man; but I was still a man.
I was a gay man; but I wasn't ashamed.
I was a gay man and I was your son.
You did not call me yours; yet I belonged to you.
I was your Adam.
Now it's your turn, dad.
Be a man.


In a tragic twist, Adam chose to take his young life. A life, he thought, that wasn’t worth living for any longer than he had already been suffering. The note had been his hello and his goodbye.


But, Adam was still there. Standing at the edge of his bridge. Would he turn back around? Would he jump?

Adam is your neighbor, your friend, and your brother. Adam is the one who could have been saved and can still can be saved, but part of that depends on how you treat the Adam in your lives.
So, to all of you readers, talk to your Adam. Tell him that it gets better. Tell him that somewhere there is hope, because sometimes, hope is all we have.

After all, it’s like Harvey Milk once said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you...And you...And you...Gotta give em hope.”