By Oren Yaniv (NY Daily News)
April 25, 2012
Baruch Lebovits, 61, was sent to 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison based on testimony of a 22-year-old admitted drug user who claimed the rabbi sexually abused him at age 16.
Only after the alleged victim testified in March 2010 did prosecutors hand over notes indicating he had told police that Lebovits tried to bribe him.
But by then, the defense questions opened the door for prosecutors to ask about the bribery offer, which the rabbi later denied.
Having the documents in advance "would have prevented me from hurting my own client," said defense lawyer Arthur Aidala.
The four-judge appeals panel agreed, writing that the late disclosure "set a trap for the defendant which had already sprung at the time the notes were finally furnished."
"Total victory and it's probably the end of the case," declared Alan Dershowitz, who handled the appeal alongside Aidala.
The severity of Lebovits's sentence had sent shock waves through the close-knit Jewish community of Borough Park, where the purported crimes occurred. And the twists in the story didn't end there.
Lebovits, a wealthy owner of a travel agency, was sprung last April pending appeal after spending a year in prison. The surprising release came after the district attorney's office charged a Hasid with extortion, saying he offered to make the case go away if the rabbi coughed up $400,000. When Lebovits refused, the star trial witness emerged.
Those allegations were not part of the appeal but are sure to come up in a potential new trial.
"We are prepared to retry the case," said a spokesman for Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes.
The defense said they're hopeful that both sides will reach another resolution.
"I can't believe a responsible prosecutor will bring it again to trial," said Dershowitz. "It's inconceivable to me."