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Man Pleads Guilty to Molesting Girl, 15

November 01, 1995|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A New York rabbi's assistant pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge that he sexually molested a teen-age girl during an international airline flight last spring.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Yehudah Friedlander, 44, pleaded guilty to sexual abusive contact with a minor, said Carole Levitzky, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office.

The plea came on the eve of Friedlander's trial in the case, which stunned the Hasidic Jewish community on both coasts.

Supporters, reacting with disbelief, rallied around Friedlander and Rabbi Israel Grunwald after they were arrested in May at Los Angeles International Airport on charges that they had molested the 15-year-old girl during a flight from Australia.

Charges were dismissed against Grunwald last summer.

But federal prosecutors, who can refile the case against him, say their investigation of Grunwald continues. Through his attorney, Grunwald, a leader of a small Hasidic sect in New York City, has denied any wrongdoing.

Levitzky said that Friedlander, in his plea before Judge J. Spencer Letts, admitted that during the flight he reached underneath the teen-ager's underwear and touched her genitals without her consent.

According to an FBI affidavit filed with the original charges, the girl, who was traveling alone, was sitting in the same row with the men. She told authorities that she tried to quietly fend off the advances without calling attention to herself because she was embarrassed.

The affidavit said another passenger witnessed the incident and alerted the flight crew, which radioed ahead to airport police.

Friedlander, who was released on bail and returned to New York after his arrest, will be sentenced Jan. 18. He faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

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