Nechemya Weberman, center, a religious counselor in a New York City ultra-Orthodox… (Bebeto Matthews / Associated…)
A self-described counselor connected to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for molesting a girl who had gone to him for solace, prosecutors said.
Nechemya Weberman, 54, was convicted in December of 59 counts, including sexually abusing the girl over three years, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
The closely watched trial was the first such sexual abuse case brought by Brooklyn prosecutors against someone in the Satmar, one of the Hasidic Jewish communities, which are known for their insular and fundamental religious ways. News reports in recent years have alleged a series of abuses in the Satmar group, which is also considered politically powerful in Brooklyn.
“If there is one message to take away from this case it is that this office will pursue the evil of sexual abuse of a child no matter where it occurs in this county,” Dist. Atty. Charles J. Hynes said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“We must protect our children from sexual predators. The abuse of a child cannot be swept under the rug or dealt with by insular groups believing only they know what is best for their community. In this case it took the courage of a young woman to drive home the point that justice can only be achieved through the involvement of civil authorities charged with protecting all the people,” he said.
The Satmar is a community of more than 250,000 people, mainly in parts of Brooklyn and upstate New York as well as smaller outposts in a variety of cities, including in Israel. The group is known for its large families and has roots in Hungary and Romania.
Both Weberman and his accuser are members of the Satmar Hasidic sect in Brooklyn.
At his sentencing, Weberman wore the traditional black suit of his group and, as is common among religious Jews, also wore a head covering. He did not speak, but his lawyer again said that his client was innocent and that the conviction would be appealed.
During the trial, the defense insisted that the girl had lied about the sexual abuse.
“The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done,” Justice John G. Ingram of the State Supreme Court said before imposing the sentence. Ingram praised the girl’s “courage and bravery in coming forward.”
Weberman began counseling the victim when she was 12, according to Hynes. The girl was sent to the counselor from her school after she began asking questions about religion and dressing in a less austere version of the attire her group preferred. Weberman wasn't licensed by the state but had worked as a therapist in his community for decades.
From 2007 to 2010, Weberman sexually abused the girl multiple times, mostly in his office, officials said.
In a prepared statement that the girl read in court, the victim, now 18, recounted the abuse and its effects.
“I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror,” she said. “I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn't sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body.
“I would cry until the tears ran dry,” she stated. “You played around with and destroyed lives as if they were your toys, without the slightest bit of mercy.”
The victim and her family have been ostracized by the community, which tries to resolve all issues within the confines of its religious beliefs. Still pending are cases against some of the group members accused of trying to bribe the complainant and her family. Others are accused of taking pictures of the accusers and posting them online.