Accused child molester wins first battle against extradition to U.S.

Haaretz, Israel/January 20, 2010

For the more than two years he was in prison, Avrohom Mondrowitz prayed to God for his freedom.

Two weeks ago, a three-judge Supreme Court panel ruled to release him to house arrest, reversing an earlier Jerusalem District Court decision that the 62-year-old member of the Gur Hasidic sect would be extradited to the United States for the alleged molestation of more than 100 children and adolescents.

Born in Poland, Mondrowitz immigrated to Israel with his family after World War II. In the 1950s, he immigrated again, to Chicago.

By the 1980s he was living in Brooklyn, where he presented himself as a rabbi and psychologist, an expert in childhood and adolescent problems, even though he had no accreditation in the field.

In 2007, former patients of Mondrowitz and students at the yeshiva at which he taught described to Haaretz just what happened behind closed doors.

The parents of Mark Weiss, then 14 years old, came from Chicago to Brooklyn for treatment with Mondrowitz. Weiss had nowhere to sleep, and his self-styled therapist invited him into his home.

"My parents knew and trusted Mondrowitz," said Weiss, now 42. "His family was on vacation in the Catskills, and he came to pick me up at the airport. At first it was a lot of fun; he took me all over the place.

"At night he came into my bed and touched me. He did everything, including acts of sodomy. I was naive - I didn't understand exactly what was going on. I thought it was part of him being nice," Weiss recalled.

Today Weiss is active in Survivors for Justice, an organization created in the United States by victims of Mondrowitz.

In 1984, the New York Police Department collected testimony from Mondrowitz's victims and their parents in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Brooklyn.

Officers drafted a 13-part indictment including first-degree sodomy, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Authorities in New York issued an arrest warrant, but when police came to detain him, Mondrowitz and his family had fled to Israel.

The U.S. Justice Department immediately issued an extradition request, but the extradition agreement between the United States and Israel did not include charges of sodomy, but only rape.

In Israel, Mondrowitz - married and the father of seven children - continued teaching in a yeshiva and counseling children. He is also suspected of having sold forged university degrees to anyone willing to pay.

Israel Police investigators have found significant material testifying to offenses both sexual and otherwise, including pedophile films and forged degrees from universities around the world.

Mondrowitz was first questioned by Israeli authorities in October 2007, then released to limited house arrest.

In January of that year, the Israel-U.S. extradition treaty was amended to include any offense that carries a sentence of one year or more.

The U.S. Justice Department immediately issued a new request for Mondrowitz's incarceration.

According to U.S. law, Mondrowitz's alleged offenses are not affected by a statute of limitations, given that the suspect fled to a foreign country.

Too much time has passed

One night in November 2007, Mondrowitz was seized at his home in Jerusalem's Nahlaot neighborhood and taken into custody, and a week later released to house arrest.

Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia wrote in the ruling that even if the alleged offenses had not exceeded the statute of limitations, Mondrowitz should not be extradited because the length of time passed since they allegedly occurred would make a fair trial impossible.

The court also ruled that Israel and the United States could have changed the extradition treaty long before they did, and even if it was amended in 2007, Mondrowitz was still entitled to the presumption of innocence.

In the coming days the State Prosecutor's Office will likely ask the Supreme Court to hold an additional hearing on Mondrowitz's case.

The New York-based president of Survivors for Justice, Ben Hirsch, said, "We won't rest and we won't be quiet until Mondrowitz is brought to a fair trial in Brooklyn, where he committed his criminal acts. How many children's lives will be ruined by that monster before the Israeli authorities decide to put an end to it? Should we understand from the Supreme Court's ruling that it is recommending that the U.S. government forcibly kidnap Mondrowitz to bring him to trial?"

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