November 12, 2019

Mendel Tevel released from N.Y. jail, returns to Beverly Hills

Seven months after being sentenced to a one-year jail term for sexually abusing a minor, Mendel Tevel, who once worked at a local Jewish youth center, has been released on parole from a New York jail and has reportedly been seen in Beverly Hills, where he was arrested in October 2013 on sex offense charges.

Tevel, who is 32 or 33, pleaded guilty in April 2015 to two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, under New York law, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is a minor or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. This was after pleading not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse, most either in the first or third degree, upon his arraignment in 2013.

Tevel is the son-in-law of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel worked until his 2013 arrest.

Tevel’s wife and daughter continue to live in the Los Angeles area, and on Feb. 12 the Beverly Hills Courier published a photo showing him in the city. He does not currently appear on California’s Megan’s Law sexual offender registry, which is maintained by the state’s Department of Justice. The law requires certain sex offenders to register with the state’s Megan’s Law database within five working days of moving to California, giving the public vital information on sex offenders, including their home address.

Brenda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman with the state’s DOJ, said she cannot comment on any specific case, but said the five-day registration requirement applies to offenders “who are registered in other states.” Tevel does not appear on New York’s online sex offender registry; according to the New York State Unified Court System’s website, he is scheduled to have a sixth and possibly final “risk level assessment” hearing related to his status as a sex offender on Feb. 29.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office told the Journal that the hearing will clarify Tevel’s sex offender registration requirements — which could range from 20 years to life — and that until then he’s not required to register. While a sex offender’s designation is typically established before release from prison, the spokesman said there was a technical error in Tevel’s case and the judge had to grant Tevel’s attorney’s request for a re-evaluation.

On Feb. 18, Sgt. Max Subin of the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed that police are aware of Tevel’s presence in California.

“We are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action if necessary and in accordance with state law,” Subin wrote in an email. “If he is found to be in violation [of registration requirements], our Detective Bureau will take appropriate action.”

When the Journal called the JEM Center on Feb. 18, this reporter identified himself and asked Illulian, who answered the phone, whether Tevel was at the center. Illulian said Tevel “is working with children, little children,” and then made clear he wasn’t being serious. He said Tevel hasn’t been to the JEM Center for more than 2 1/2 years, and criticized the Journal’s coverage of the case.

“All your articles are not true,” Illulian said. “Everybody knows [the truth] except the people who like to get headlines.”

The Brooklyn district attorney’s charges against Tevel in 2013 came two months after the Journal published an investigative report in which four of Tevel’s alleged victims described sexual abuse they said occurred from about 1995 to 2004, when their ages ranged from 6 to 14. Allegations against Tevel first became public in October 2012, when Meyer Seewald, founder of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), listed him on the group’s online “Wall of Shame,” the organization’s list of people it believes are sexual predators in Jewish communities. All of the alleged abuses cited in the Journal’s article took place in New York and Pennsylvania.

Tevel’s arrest and JCW’s activism have shed light on a divide within Orthodox communities over how to deal with sex offenders and other potentially dangerous members of the community. In November, the five-member board of the Pico-Robertson Chabad Bais Bezalel unanimously adopted a list of “Child & Member Protection Policies & Procedures.” Those policies allow the synagogue to ban any sex offenders from its property and events, and state that lashon hara prohibitions (which govern forbidden speech) cannot be used “as a means of silencing survivors, or those aware of abuse, who appropriately report abuse, or seek aid, therapy or comfort.” The synagogue’s president, Yonatan Hambourger, said the new policy wasn’t a response specifically to Tevel’s case but was necessary because of the number of people who come in and out of the synagogue during the week.

Prior to Tevel’s guilty plea, he would sometimes attend Bais Bezalel. When Hambourger was made aware, he asked Tevel to leave. Tevel hasn’t since returned. So far, Hambourger said, there’s hasn’t been any blowback to the Child and Member Protection policy.

“It’s a difficult issue for us to address because, on the one hand, we’re a Chabad shul, and we want to be open, but the stark reality is there are a lot of really, really potentially dangerous people,” he said.

On Feb. 10, Bais Bezalel’s board sent an email stating that, per its guidelines, it was advising the community of Tevel’s release from prison and assuring people “that Mendy Tevel is not welcome at Bais Bezalel.”