Abuse trial of prominent Orthodox leader Nechemya Weberman begins as insular Satmar Hasidic sect becomes Exhibit 1
The explosive sex abuse trial of prominent Orthodox leader Nechemya Weberman began Monday, and the insular Satmar Hasidic sect both he and the teen accuser belonged to became Exhibit 1.
"It's pretty much an entirely different world that's just a couple of minutes away from this courthouse," said Assistant District Attorney Kevin O'Donnell of the Williamsburg-based community.
Weberman, 53, is charged with touching the alleged victim's genitals and forcing her to perform oral sex on him starting in 2007 when she was 12. He counseled her after the teenager was deemed heretic because she questioned religious teachings and "did not follow the modesty rules," such as the required thickness of hosiery, prosecutors said.
"A woman questioning authority is not allowed," said O'Donnell.
The defense agreed the teen was "a free spirit" who wrote poetry and read forbidden magazines like Cosmopolitan and People.
"Rather than relishing her differences, the community tried to kick them out of her," said defense attorney George Farkas.
But he contended that she found a trusted listener in Weberman, who was a friend and business partner of her parents.
The defense had argued that Weberman conspired with her father to secretly videotape her in bed with a boyfriend while she was still underage — which they took to the DA to file statutory rape charges against the man.
But the judge barred Farkas from disclosing any details of that case to the jury. The lawyer merely said in court that the teen felt betrayed after blaming her counselor for an arrest of "a boy she loved."
He claimed the first time she brought up the allegations against Weberman was in February 2001, two weeks after the case against the boyfriend was dropped.
She wanted "to bring down the entire community," Farks said in his opening statement. "It was great vengeance and furious anger."