Mendel Tevel sentenced to one year in prison on sex abuse charges
Nearly two years after his arrest in Beverly Hills on sexual-abuse charges, Mendel Tevel was sentenced on June 8 in a Brooklyn court to one year in prison, a spokesperson with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has confirmed.
Tevel is married to the daughter of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel worked and where Beverly Hills police arrested him in 2013.
On April 24, Tevel pleaded guilty to two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, as described by the New York penal code, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is a minor or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. Upon his arraignment in late 2013, he pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse — most either first degree or third degree — and was released on $100,000 bail.
Tevel, who is now 31 or 32, was arrested in October 2013 in Beverly Hills, then extradited to New York and charged with sexually abusing a minor there in 2007. His arrest came two months after the Jewish Journal published
Beverly Hills resident Mendel Tevel pleads guilty in Brooklyn to sex abuse charges
Mendel Tevel, who was arrested in Beverly Hills in Oct. 2013 and then extradited to Brooklyn on charges of sexual abuse stemming from an Apr. 2007 incident, pleaded guilty in a New York courtroom before Judge Elizabeth Foley on Apr. 24 to two counts of criminal sexual acts in the third degree, according to Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.
In Aug. 2013, the Jewish Journal published an ” target=”_blank”>arrested in Beverly Hills and held in a Los Angeles County jail for more than a week, then was ” target=”_blank”>pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse—most were either first-degree or third-degree—and was released on $100,000 bail.
On Apr. 24, after agreeing to a plea bargain with the prosecutor, Tevel pleaded guilty to only two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, as described by the New York penal code, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is either under 17 or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. At the time of the incident, Tevel was either 23 or 24 years old. The Brooklyn D.A.’s office said that because the crime was sexual in nature, it couldn’t share more information on the case, including the victim’s identity.
Tevel is the son-in-law of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel used to work and where Beverly Hills police arrested him in 2013. Tevel married Illulian’s daughter, Bracha, in 2012.
Tevel is expected to appear in court again on June 8 for sentencing by Judge Foley. According to New York guidelines, he could be given from 16 months to up to four years in prison or as little as no jail time, which could be with or without probation.
Accused as sex-abuser, Mendel Tevel appears in L.A. court
On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 31, Mendel Tevel appeared in a Los Angeles Superior Court for the first time since his arrest two days earlier by Beverly Hills police acting on a warrant issued by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. Tevel, a rabbi and youth worker, is accused of 11 counts of alleged sexual abuse in New York.
Handcuffed, wearing a standard blue jail suit and standing behind glass in a sealed-off section of a downtown courtroom, Tevel listened without expression as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba verified that he had signed a form waiving his right to oppose his extradition to the State of New York. His lawyer confirmed Tevel’s signed consent, giving New York law enforcement officials until Dec. 2 to retrieve Tevel from the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Tevel’s attorney, Dana Cole, asked the judge if the court would consider granting bail to Tevel based on two factors: Concern that it would be difficult for Tevel to maintain a healthy weight in county jail while observing strict kosher dietary restrictions, and the fact that Tevel has a clean record in California.
“Because of his very rigorous dietary restrictions it would be very difficult for him to maintain weight [and] health in county [jail],” Cole said.
Torrealba turned down the request, saying, “You’re not entitled to bail, and because of the very violent and serious nature of these offenses, it does appear that no bail is the most appropriate way to make sure that you get back to the state of New York to face these charges.”
Members of Tevel’s family were in the courtroom, including his wife, Bracha, and her father and Tevel’s father-in-law, Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, a Jewish community center where Tevel worked—and where police arrested him on the afternoon of Oct. 29.
Tevel is expected to be charged, pending his extradition to New York, with three counts of criminal sexual acts in the first degree, five counts of criminal sexual acts in the third degree and three counts of sexual abuse in the first degree.
In an article in the Jewish Journal in August, four men alleged that they had been victims of Tevel as minors (ranging from ages 6 to 14 at the time of the alleged abuse).
They claimed Tevel performed acts that included spanking on bare skin, as well as sexually suggestive rubbing. The instances described by those who spoke with the Journal took place as early as around 1995 and as recently as around 2004.
On Oct. 30, one of those alleged victims, a Brooklyn resident, told the Journal, “I would like to see him going away forever.”
Because the indictment remains sealed, whether those charges include the four men who made accusations against him to the Journal is unclear.
Tevel is believed to have moved to Los Angeles in 2012, shortly after his marriage.
Lt. Lincoln Hoshino of the Beverly Hills Police Department said that when the department investigated Tevel in August, detectives concluded there had been “no complaints” of any criminal or inappropriate sexual acts with students at the JEM center.
Illulian would not comment when contacted in August, and did not respond to multiple calls this week to his cell phone. He also declined to speak with the Journal in court.
In an interview earlier in the week, Illulian told KABC-TV, “God will help that it will show that it’s all false and will clear up, and people will see while we [JEM] will still continue our good job for the community,”
Outside of the courthouse after the hearing, attorney Cole spoke with the media, saying Tevel is “anxious to go back to New York and start the process” he hopes will “clear his name.”
Tevel “absolutely denies the allegations—he believes that they are fabricated,” Cole said.
When asked why he raised the issue of kosher dietary restrictions when the county jail is known to provide kosher food, Cole responded, “They do provide kosher food, but Los Angeles county jail is a miserable environment. It’s very difficult for a very religious person with strict dietary restrictions to really survive there.
“He’ll have to do the best he can,” Cole said.
Melbourne sex abuse probes spread to Sydney Jewish community
Allegations of child sex abuse, rampant in Melbourne’s Jewish community, have spread to Sydney, with police mounting investigations into two individuals.
Police in New South Wales state said at least one of the alleged perpetrators under investigation is believed to be a former employee of a religious institution associated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Neither of the men have been publicly named.
The allegations date back to the late 1970s or 1980s, a police spokesperson said.
Rabbi Eli Feldman, a spokesperson for the Yeshiva Center, the headquarters of Chabad in NSW, said in a statement Thursday that police had not contacted them.
“Yeshiva unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, including child sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We welcome any police investigation to uncover any improprieties, especially regarding alleged crimes against children.”
Child abuse victim Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for Jewish survivors and victims in Australia, welcomed the news.
“This is yet a further positive development,” he said. “The Sydney Yeshiva Center has made its position crystal clear: that it does not tolerate any forms of abuse, it encourages victims to go to the police, it commits to fully cooperating with the police, it offers victims and survivors an acknowledgement of what they may have experienced, and importantly, it offers them support and assistance in a practical and sensitive manner.”
Yeshivah College, the Chabad-run school in Melbourne, has been at the center of multiple child sex abuse allegations. Two former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – face multiple charges, including indecent acts on minors and child rape.
On Friday, a magistrate set April 23-24 as the dates for Kramer’s committal hearing, which will determine whether his case goes to trial. Kramer appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video-link from jail.
Waks also said a new victim had come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused as a child by a congregant of a synagogue in Melbourne in the 1990s.
Principal at Aussie school under fire sees child sex abuse inquiry as ‘welcome step’
The launch of a commission to investigate child sex abuse was welcomed by the principal of an Australian Jewish school whose students allegedly were victimized.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday that the royal commission — or public inquiry — would look into children under the care of religious organizations and focus on the response of the institutions to the alleged sex abuse cases. She called child sex abuse “vile and evil.”
Yeshivah College, an Orthodox school run by Chabad in Melbourne, has been at the center of controversy since allegations broke last year that its students had been victims of sexual abuse.
Its principal, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, issued a statement Wednesday saying that “Child abuse is abhorrent and has a traumatic consequences for victims and their families. Victims of abuse deserve support and closure, and a royal commission is a very positive and welcome step.”
Manny Waks, a spokesman for alleged victims who claims he was abused as a student at Yeshivah College, said that “I’m receiving more and more allegations of child sexual abuse coming from the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth Jewish communities. Some are alleged to have occurred years ago, while others as recent as the past few years.”
One alleged perpetrator, David Cyprys, is standing trial next year on numerous counts of child sex abuse against former students of Yeshivah College from the 1980s. Another alleged perpetrator, David Kramer, is awaiting extradition from America to Australia, where he is wanted by police who are investigating allegations that he also committed child sex abuse while he taught at Yeshivah College between 1989 and 1993.
Malka Leifer, a former principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, fled the country for Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she sexually abused female students.
Ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier charged in Sandusky sex abuse case
Former Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier was charged with perjury and obstruction as part of a “conspiracy of silence” in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said on Thursday.
Spanier also is charged with endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy and failure to report child abuse in the Sandusky scandal, which rocked college sports and focused national attention on child sexual abuse. Sandusky was a Penn State assistant football coach.
“This is not a mistake, an oversight or a misjudgment. This was a conspiracy of silence by top officials at Penn State, working to actively conceal the truth, with total disregard to the suffering of children,” Kelly told a news conference.
Two other former officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz, also face new charges of child endangerment, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. They had previously been charged with failure to report abuse and perjury, and both have pleaded not guilty.
NBC television reported on its “Today” show that the charges are based in part on emails uncovered during an investigation the university commissioned by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose report on the Sandusky scandal was issued this summer.
Spanier resigned as head of Penn State in November 2011 in the wake of the charges against Sandusky, who was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years and is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Mark Shade; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jackie Frank
Jewish day school apologizes to child sex abuse victims
The Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal apologized “unreservedly” to the victims.
The apology, issued Monday in a letter from the head of the Yeshivah College and the head of the Yeshivah Center, which houses the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Melbourne, said: “We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”
Outlining safety measures the college had taken, the letter said it “wants to make it absolutely clear that we condemn sexual abuse in any form.”
It comes six weeks after a judge ordered David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, to stand trial next year for multiple child sex abuse charges allegedly perpetrated over two decades ago on 12 students – three of whom now reside in America.
Manny Waks, the only Australian-based victim who has spoken publicly, said that the apology was “an important milestone.”
“The other past victims and I sought recognition of the ongoing and serious sexual abuse we suffered from the very institution that we hold partly responsible for that abuse. Today’s statement by the Yeshivah leadership is an acknowledgement of the abuse we suffered,” he said.
But the apology is “only a first step,” he continued.
“The reality is that Yeshivah has not apologized for their despicable behavior over the past year,” Waks said. He also criticized the letter’s claim that they are cooperating with police even though detectives had accused the college of a cover-up in court.
One blogger slammed the letter as a “lawyer-drafted piece of propaganda” and a “non-apology apology” that “does not include an admission of guilt.”
Moves are afoot to extradite David Kramer, a convicted pedophile in America, over allegations he committed child sexual abuse at Yeshivah College in the 1980s. Kramer taught at the college.
Four haredi Orthodox men indicted in alleged sex abuse cover-up
Four haredi Orthodox men in Brooklyn were charged with attempting to intimidate and bribe an alleged sexual abuse victim and her boyfriend in a criminal case against a local counselor.
According to the indictment filed June 21, Abraham Rubin, 48, offered the alleged victim and her boyfriend $500,000 to recant testimony against Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed psychotherapist awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse. Weberman has been accused of 88 counts of sexual misconduct and allegedly molesting the victim in his home and office when she was aged 12 to 15.
Rubin and brothers Joseph Berger, Jacob Berger and Hertzka Berger pleaded not guilty on charges of bribing a witness, witness tampering, coercion and aggravated harassment at their arraignment in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn and were released on bail, according to reports. The Bergers are accused of trying to pressure the couple into not testifying by threatening to remove a kosher certificate in a restaurant owned and operated by the boyfriend.
It is the first case resulting from a new task force to address witness intimidation and harassment in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. The task force was established in May by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in response to media reports that the community regularly hid cases of child sexual abuse from the authorities.
At a news conference announcing the indictments, Hynes defended his office’s action and said that intimidation of victims and witnesses in sex-abuse cases in the Orthodox community has made prosecuting cases difficult.
“Hopefully these indictments serve as an example that we will not tolerate individuals who try to interfere with the pursuit of justice,” Hynes said.
Producer threatens L.A. Jewish film fest over rejection of sex-abuse documentary
Producer Scott Rosenfelt, whose credits include “Home Alone” and ”Mystic Pizza,” is threatening a major Jewish film festival after its director raised concerns that Rosenfelt’s documentary about sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community amounts to a “witch hunt.”
Rosenfelt sent a scathing email last week to the director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival after learning that she had warned colleagues at other film festivals about “Standing Silent.”
The film, which features interviews with several victims of sexual abuse by Baltimore-area Orthodox rabbis, is slated to be screened at several Jewish film festivals across the United States. It was the subject of a lengthy feature article in The Washington Post.
In an email to Jewish film festival directors in September, L.A. festival chief Hilary Helstein wrote that while the film was well made, “Our committee felt with a community that reveres it’s [sic] rabbis this was not something they wanted to show.”
Rosenfelt called the email the “most unprofessional act” he has seen in his 35-year career.
“The idea that a festival director would go behind the back of a filmmaker and do this gives me great pause to ever recommend your festival to anyone,” Rosenfelt wrote to Helstein on March 22. “As you know, I’ve produced films such as ‘Home Alone,’ so I know a couple of people in the business. I plan on letting EVERYONE I know to stay away from you and your festival, because you are clearly not someone who supports filmmakers.”
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Rosenfelt concluded by calling Helstein “a disgrace to Judaism, and not only that, a disgrace to all humanity.”
In an interview with JTA, Rosenfelt stood by his comments, saying that Helstein was complicit in the kind of silence surrounding sexual abuse that his film aims to combat. Asked if he really felt Helstein was a disgrace to humanity, Rosenfelt said “Absolutely.”
Helstein’s email was sent in the context of a discussion among festival officials about possible films to show. She wrote that her festival’s team rejected the film because of its subject matter.
“They felt the film was more of a ‘witch hunt,’ ” she wrote.
“We all show different things and each community has a different level of tolerance,” Helstein concluded. “I just wanted to put a warning sticker on this one so that you are aware.”
Helstein did not respond to requests seeking comment, but John Fishel, the L.A. festival chairman, told JTA that the determination not to screen “Standing Silent” was made by a small group of volunteers on the selection committee. Fishel said the committee did not feel the film was appropriate to screen and worried that it would provoke controversy that would overshadow the film itself.
The exchange highlights the sensitivities and charged emotions surrounding the issue of sexual abuse in the Jewish community.
“Standing Silent” describes the experiences of a number of survivors of sex abuse in Baltimore’s Orthodox community, as well as the efforts of a journalist to bring those cases to light. The journalist, Phil Jacobs, was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. As the editor of The Baltimore Jewish Times, Jacobs spent years documenting sex-abuse allegations and consequently endured opprobrium from segments of the local Orthodox community.
“We’ve got to get this out in the public and discuss it and keep our children safe,” Jacobs, who is now the editor of the Washington Jewish Week, told JTA. “Because it sounds like a big old cliche, but somebody touches you for five seconds, it can impact you forever.”
Jewish film festivals have struggled in recent years with how to manage controversial material. In San Francisco in 2009, a documentary about the American pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from destroying Palestinian homes, sparked a furious and divisive debate when it was shown at the local Jewish film festival.
According to a source involved with the L.A. festival for several years, Helstein is well intentioned but also hamstrung by a small, conservative donor base that limits the range of material that can be presented.
“[Helstein] was overly sensitive to a particular portion of her donor base and audience and did not consider the value the film would provide to the community at large,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The festival has always had an aversion to controversy and has never been able to provide the kind of leadership in programming the community needs. The tail wags the dog.”
Fishel denied the contention.
“I would reject that as an unfair characterization of both Hilary and the festival,” he said. “I think that they do a great job. I think that it’s getting better and better every year.”
Brooklyn DA claims record number of child sex-abuse charges vs. haredim
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office says it has charged 89 men in the borough’s haredi Orthodox communities with child sex abuse—a threefold increase over a two-year span.
However, the Forward reported that Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes declined to provide any details about the cases, making the number of arrests impossible to verify. His spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, gave the figures to the newspaper in mid-November.
The numbers reflect the number of haredi Orthodox men charged with sexual abuse since October 2009.
In an e-mail to The Forward in late October, Schmetterer said his office was not prepared to discuss the cases at the time. “Perhaps towards the end of November,” he wrote.
In 2009, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said it had arrested 26 haredi Orthodox men in the borough for sexual abuse over the previous two years.
Hynes had come under fire for allegedly neglecting sexual abuse cases in Brooklyn’s haredi communities. Sexual abuse survivors and their advocates say that Hynes has been lax on the issue because he is afraid of political retaliation from Orthodox voters.
Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, told The Forward, “We deserve public notice of the arrest and conviction of Orthodox sex offenders, not culturally sensitive policies that keep these cases from the public, thereby placing children in danger.”