Prosecutors defend rabbi's child-molestation conviction despite charging making false accusations

New York Daily News/April 13, 2011

Prosecutors stood by a Brooklyn rabbi's child-molestation conviction Wednesday, even as they charged a Hasidic man with shaking down his family and bribing someone to make false accusations.

Baruch Lebovits, 60, received a sentence of 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison a year ago, based on the testimony of a 22-year-old man who said the rabbi sexually abused when he was 16.

The trial and stiff penalty sent shockwaves through Borough Park's tight-knit Jewish community.

But Samuel Kellner, 49, who brought the victim to prosecutors' attention, was charged with paying another man $10,000 to accuse Lebovits of abuse.

Kellner was also charged with trying to blackmail Lebovits' family out of $400,000 to make the cases disappear.

"Child abuse has to be prosecuted vigorously, but we also have to be careful about false complaints," said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, defending a decision to prosecute the case.

An investigation into Lebovits - a wealthy man who owned a travel agency - began when Kellner's close relative accused the rabbi of inappropriate touching, sources said.

Lebovits was hit with a misdemeanor, but when a second accuser - the one paid by Kellner - came forward, the rabbi was slapped with felony counts, prosecutors said.

The charges relating to Kellner's relative were eventually dismissed, and the second accuser later refused to testify at trial.

Meanwhile, representatives for Kellner told the Lebovits family to pay up or another victim would come forward, prosecutors said.

When the family refused, a third accuser stepped forward and gave testimony in March 2010 that led to Lebovits' conviction.

A source told the Daily News that third accuser was also tainted, having been offered $50,000 to take the stand.

"We believe everything was premeditated all along. All they wanted was the money," said a relative of Lebovits who asked not to be named. "The DA has him on recordings."

An appellate division panel will decide later Wednesday whether to release Lebovits on bail pending his appeal.

Prosecutors oppose any release, arguing the victim who testified at trial was truthful.

The rabbi is represented on appeal by high-power attorney Alan Dershowitz and his original defense lawyer Arthur Aidala.

"The indictment today really made it clear that our client was the victim of an extortion plot," said Dershowitz.

"We are satisfied and relieved by the DA's actions to follow up on the leads we gave him," Aidala said. "It goes a long way to prove our theory that all these charges are false."

Kellner was arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court for 10 counts of grand larceny, perjury and conspiracy that can land him behind bars for up to 21 years.

He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer Israel Fried described him as an advocate of sexual-abuse victims, which made him a lightening rod in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood.

"It seems reasonable that people in the community who are aware of him bringing people to justice will have a vendetta against my client," he said.

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