By Mary Murphy (wpix.com)
April 12, 2010
BOROUGH PARK, N.Y. - Rabbi Baruch Lebovits, 59, the wealthy owner of a travel agency in Borough Park, Brooklyn, was hit Monday with a lengthy prison term for sexually abusing a then-16 year old teenager from his neighborhood.
Lebovits, a father of seven children and grandfather to twenty four, had long been the subject of talk in his community, but no action was ever taken against him, until three alleged victims came forward a couple of years ago.
Judge Patricia DiMango, of Brooklyn Supreme Court, sentenced Lebovits to a maximum term of 10 2/3 to 32 years. The victim in this first case told the jury that Lebovits performed oral sex on him in the rabbi's silver Toyota, between May 2004 and February 2005. The victim, now 22, testified he turned to drugs and alcohol after the abuse. The defense attorney, Arthur Aidala, argued the allegations were made up, as part of an extortion attempt, because Lebovits' son is a multi-millionaire.
In a surprise courtroom revelation, the judge read portions of Lebovits' probation report, where the rabbi confided to authorities that he himself was a victim of sexual abuse, when he was a boy. Lebovits said he was victimized the first time by an uncle in London, when he was just 11-years-old. He said a teenager abused him again, a year later, when he was 12.
Lebovits' victim, who admitted he stole money from poor boxes in the synagogue to feed his drug habit, read a statement to the judge before sentencing.
"Some people are telling me I'll regret going to the police. I feel every day Baruch Lebovits is in jail is a day kids in our community are safe," he said.
The victim's father then read his own statement to Judge DiMango, swaying back and forth at the table like he was saying daily prayers in his Orthodox Jewish faith:
"I ask you Mordechai Lebovits--where is your soul? You destroyed these children," said the victim's father.
Later, outside of court, the man revealed to PIX 11 News how community members from the synagogue lashed out against the family after they went public with the abuse complaints.
"Somebody almost kicked me .. they threw me out of the synagogue," he said.
Defense attorney, Arthur Aidala, took note that Lebovits worked for many years as a kindergarten teacher and there was never one word of complaint from parents. He pointed to more than 100 letters of support for the rabbi, written by his family and other community members.
"In my religion, you would call the life Baruch Lebovits lived a saint --this is a non-violent crime. Keep in mind, this is his first contact with the system," said Aidala.
But Judge DiMango was not swayed, although she noted, "Sex abuse often leads to sex abuse." Before imposing the maximum sentence, she said, "Abusing and harming children will not be tolerated."
A group of young men who say they're survivors of sexual abuse by teachers and counselors turned up in court to support the victim.
The defense plans to appeal the harsh sentence, claiming Lebovits is being punished, because he turned down a "plea bargain" offer before trial that would have carried a 1 1/3 to 4 year maximum penalty. Now the rabbi is looking at 32 years.