A prominent counselor in Brooklyn’s Satmar Chassidic community of Williamsburg was found guilty on Monday in Brooklyn’s State Supreme Court of sexually abusing a girl in his care for several years. Nechemya Weberman, 54, was convicted on all 59 counts of abuse, including sustained sex abuse of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum of 117 years in prison.
Sitting silently in the Brooklyn courtroom as the verdict was being read, Weberman was led from the court room in handcuffs, according to reports from the New York Daily News. Having been charged with abusing a girl from the insular Chassidic community from the time she was 12 years of age in 2007 until 2010, Weberman vehemently denied the charges when he took the stand in his own defense, saying that he “never ever” inappropriately touched the young lady while she was in his care.
The victim, now 18, testified that she “wanted to die rather than live with herself” as Weberman violated her during their closed-door counseling sessions. Upon hearing the news of the guilty verdict in the case, she cried tears of joy. “I can’t wait until he is in prison. And someone holds him down and for once in his life, he can feel helpless,” she said. “I honestly believe that G-d is my witness, and He stands up for me,” said the young woman, who just got married last month. “I was nervous, I was reliving trauma. But I was sure he was going down.” Her husband told the media, “G-d showed us that He is the one who makes decisions. When He is the witness you can’t lie.”
In February of 2011, the girl – who was put in Weberman’s care by her parents and the principal of her school because she had asked probing questions about her faith, dressed immodestly and showed an interest in boys – told authorities that Weberman had abused her repeatedly. Practicing psychological therapy without a license, Weberman was considered the de facto community counselor for many of the 250,000 Chasidic families who live in Brooklyn, the largest Satmar community in the world.
Without any concrete evidence, the Brooklyn district attorney’s case was predicated on the personal testimony of the victim, who stared down her former rabbinical advisor from the witness stand. The trial which lasted for two weeks included four days of testimony from the victim as she related the sordid details of her private counseling sessions with Weberman behind his locked office doors. “I didn’t know how to fight. I was numb,” she testified.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Weberman had been counseling other troubled teen girls who strayed from the Satmar sect’s religious rules. Authorities know of at least one more alleged Weberman victim, but she has so far refused to step forward and press charges, they said. According to the victim’s mother who also testified during the trial, Weberman charged the family $12,800 in counseling fees during that time. While denying the allegations of abuse against him, Weberman was compelled to acknowledge he had used funds from his charity to pay for his children’s school tuition and to buy lingerie.
Weberman’s defense team described the victim as an out-of-control teen who wanted revenge on Weberman after he and the girl’s father filmed her in an intimate encounter with a former boyfriend – who was older than her – then used the footage to get him arrested for statutory rape. “When she found out that she had been betrayed, she went wild,” defense attorney Stacey Richman said.
“We firmly believe that the jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts and, as a result, the truth did not come out,” said defense lawyer George Farkas, who vowed to appeal. “The struggle to clear an innocent man will continue in full force,” he said.
At Weberman’s Brooklyn shul, several supporters said he’d been railroaded. “I believe the prosecutor was under pressure from the media to show that he’s breaking down on the Chassidic community,” said Yoely Brache, 30, adding that he would trust his kids to Weberman.
Testifying that she and her family were harassed and shunned for coming forward, the victim said her father lost his business and her nieces were kicked out of school. Three men were charged with criminal contempt for snapping images of Weberman’s accuser on the witness stand with cellphone cameras and posting them online during the trial. Before the trial began, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes charged another man with trying to bribe the victim to drop the charges. “The victim showed great courage to come forward in a very difficult time,” said Hynes.
Speaking to the Daily News, the victim’s husband said, “Anyone from the community who wants to intimidate us, we will report them. We want to make sure justice is served.”
The shocking trial has rocked the tight-knit Chassidic group, not only because of the scandalous charges but also because the case was played out in a public court. The guarded society strongly discourages the presentation of legal matters to the secular judicial system. Despite the escalating tensions that arose from the trial, DA Hynes expressed his hope that more abuse victims will ask for help. “The veil of secrecy has been lifted,” Hynes said. “It’s very clear to me that it’s only going to get better for people who were victimized in these various communities.”
Now serving as a confidant for other young women who disclosed that they were also molested by Weberman as girls, the victim, feeling a sense of victory, told reporters gathered at the courtroom that, “You have to fight it all the way. You can’t be scared. You can’t be scared of being kicked out of the community. This is the beginning of the changes.”