Former Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes is being sued by a hasidic father who claims Hynes prosecuted him as part of a conspiracy to protect a child molester in the Hasidic community.
The suit, filed Monday in Brooklyn federal court by a lawyer for the father, Sam Kellner, accuses Hynes’ office of malicious prosecution and violating Kellner’s constitutional rights in the service of a “criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” for victims of a “notorious” Hasidic child molester. According to the complaint, which also names the city as a defendant, this occurred in the context of Hynes’ “special, preferential system of ‘justice’ for pedophiles within the community.”
In 2008, Kellner, a member of the Munkacs Hasidic sect, obtained rabbinic permission to go to law enforcement with allegations that his son had been molested by another member of the community, Baruch Lebovits. (There is a strong taboo in the Hasidic world against “informing” on another Jew to the secular authorities and even in the case of suspected child sexual abuse, many will do so only with a dispensation from a rabbi.)
Kellner then worked closely with a sex crimes detective to identify and bring forward two additional Lebovits victims. One of those victims dropped out of the case as a result of what Sex Crimes prosecutors believed was intimidation, while the other went to trial. In 2010 Lebovits was convicted and sentenced to 10 ½ to 32 years in prison.
Within months of his conviction, as detailed in court papers, people connected to Lebovits — including his sons and attorneys — approached the Brooklyn DA with allegations that, prior to Lebovits’ trial, Kellner had attempted to extort money from Lebovits’ family in exchange for a promise to persuade the complaining victims to withdraw their claims against Lebovits.
They also alleged that Kellner had paid the victim who backed out of the prosecution to testify falsely against Lebovits before a grand jury.
During this time, according to the complaint, Hynes “surreptitiously dismissed” Kellner’s son’s still pending case against Lebovits. In 2011, prosecutors in the Rackets division of Hynes’ office sought and obtained an indictment against Kellner.
In 2012, Lebovits’ conviction was vacated on appeal because of a prosecution error and a new trial was ordered; at the time, Lebovits was released from prison on house arrest. In March of 2014, the charges against Kellner were dropped by Hynes’ successor, the late Ken Thompson. A few months later, Lebovits pleaded guilty, avoiding a second trial and ultimately serving only an additional 86 days in prison.
Kellner’s ordeal was documented by this reporter in numerous articles for the New York Jewish Week, by Michael Powell in The New York Times, and by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker.
“At the lowest point in my life, the justice system reached over” and did the right thing, Kellner told the Jewish Week on the day his case was dismissed, adding that “everything that I did was according to halacha and rabbinically OK. And what I learned is that following the rules will get you out of trouble, not into trouble.”
In the 24-page complaint, Kellner’s attorney alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy carried out by “wealthy and powerful interests” in Kellner’s community to enlist Hynes’ office in what turned out to be a “successful effort to overturn” Lebovits’ conviction “and prevent a retrial.” This alleged plot, according to the complaint, included an influential Hasidic power broker, Moshe Friedman; two convicted fraudsters; and Hynes himself, who “simultaneously coordinat[ed] with the same pedophile” his office had convicted “in order to get his victim [who testified at trial] to recant; a grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and surely unprecedented role for a District Attorney.”
The suit also alleges that there was witness tampering with respect to the Lebovits victim who backed out of the prosecution, and that it was “openly conducted in front of Hynes” by John Lonuzzi, an attorney for the recanting witness, and Lebovits’ attorney, Arthur Aidala, “the then current and future presidents of the Brooklyn Bar Association.” (Aidala, a longtime Hynes backer, announced late last year that he had formed an exploratory committee to run for public office and recent reports have speculated he maybe under consideration to be the next US Attorney for the Eastern District.)
Hynes’ attorney, Sean Haran, told the Voice that “the allegations against former District Attorney Hynes are patently false and are absurd. He will be represented by the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York and will be vindicated.”
Lonuzzi and Aidala did not respond to requests for comment.
The complaint also recounts allegations made by “Avraham Lehrer a.k.a. Joe Levin,” a private investigator “who is presently cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities,” that a “substantial payment was made to ensure [Kellner’s] prosecution.” It is unclear from the complaint to whom this alleged payment was made.
A spokesman for the City’s Law Department told the Voice that it had not yet been served but “will review the complaint once we are served and respond accordingly.”