Israel sets Mondrowitz free


Assessing blame, further options in notorious case

By Michael Orbach

Issue of January 22, 2010/ 7 Shvat 5770
Avrohom Mondrowitz will not be extradited to New York to be tried on multiple counts of child sexual abuse, Israel's Supreme Court has decided. His attorney says the Brooklyn District Attorney's office is to blame but even one of the DA's harshest critics calls that "preposterous."

Mondrowitz, a charismatic, self-styled rabbi who faked his psychology credentials, was indicted for sexually abusing several Brooklyn boys a month after he fled to Israel in 1984. He is widely suspected of molesting dozens of boys, many of whom, twenty years later, are still unwilling to come forward.

The case is more involved that that of a single individual accused of committing serious crimes. The social service agency Ohel has vigorously denied having referred clients to Mondrowitz for counseling; and leaders of the frum community, specifically the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, were thought to have warned him of his impending arrest.

Elizabeth Holtzman, Brooklyn's district attorney at the time, sought Mondrowitz's extradition. However, the charges against him were not extraditable under the reaty between Israel and the United States in force at the time. That changed in 1988, but the next district attorney, Charles Hynes, chose to not pursue the case until 2007 when the treaty changed again. Hynes has been accused of sitting on the case under pressure from the same Borough Park communal leaders. After a renewed interest in the case, extradition proceedings began in earnest in 2007. Mondrowitz appealed and in a decision issued by the Israeli Supreme Court on Jan. 14, his appeal was sustained.

"The delay in the appellant's extradition process — currently measured at 23 years — which could have been prevented by an earlier amendment of the extradition agreement, places a legal and ethical obstacle before the completion of the extradition," wrote Justice Ayala Procaccia.

Eitan Moaz, Mondrowitz's lawyer, attributed the defense's success to inaction by the district attorney.

"In 1988 the law was amended in a way that the route to extradition was open and the district attorney was notified," he explained." But they did not do anything until 2007, when they decided to apply."

"I'm not saying it was his fault, it was his decision," he added. "This case was buried under ground."

Moaz praised the judge's decision, calling it "brave," especially in light of the relationship between the United States and Israel.

Hynes is currently also fighting a Freedom of Information Act request by attorney Michael Lesher, concerning the DA's conduct in the Mondrowitz case. On Nov. 23, 2009, a judge ordered Hynes to turn over to Lesher all of the documents concerning the district attorney's handling of Mondrowitz.

"If the District Attorney has been telling the truth about his role in the attempted Mondrowitz extradition, he has nothing to hide; if he has not been telling the truth, he has no right to hide," Lesher wrote in his affidavit.

Reached by phone on the day of the Israeli Supreme Court decision, Lesher became Hynes' unlikely defender.

"It's preposterous to blame the DA for the fact that Israel and America simply did not negotiate a new extradition treaty fast enough. I don't say that as a defender of Hynes — he did plenty to bury the case -— but it isn't his fault that the extradition treaty didn't change sooner."

"It was the wrong decision and protects a man whose crimes extend ... far beyond him," he said about the decision. "If prosecuted it [the case] would reveal so much about the corrupt underside of the society he comes from. All we ever wanted was simply for him to come to trial like others accused of such crimes. If he did come to trial we would learn a lot of unpleasant things, but invaluable things. I think there were a lot of people who didn't want that to happen."

Lesher added that said he believed the court's decision had been made for "political considerations."

Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesperson for the DA said that they were "disappointed" by the Israeli decision.

“We're working with the [U.S.] Department of Justice and the [Israeli] Ministry of Justice to see what remedies are available," he said.

If there is any further recourse that could see Mondrowitz brought back to New York, it's a long shot, at best, according to his attorney, Moaz, who believes that Israel's Supreme Court would need to call a new session with a panel of seven judges.

The decision to set Mondrowitz free "raise[s] troubling questions," according to Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, an advocacy organization for victims of sexual abuse inside the Jewish community.

"We are working with counsel to determine what can be done to help bring Mondrowitz to the U.S. to face trial for the terrible crimes [of which] he stands accused. We are saddened that Mondrowitz's victims have been deprived of this important step towards closure and we will not rest until every possible legal means to bring this matter to the close it deserves have been exhausted," he said via email.

The question now becomes what will happen to Mondrowitz. He remains under house arrest after being moved from the prison where he spent the last two years.

He is set to go free on bail in ten days. Documents Michael Lesher provided to the Jewish Star indicate that as recently as 2006 Mondrowitz was actively counseling adolescents under the same false credentials he used in the United States 20 years ago.

In an evaluation of a boy named Eliyahu, who engaged in "improper behaviors with his peers," Mondrowitz wrote that the boy's experimentation was "normal."

"They form close relationships with peers and may experiment with them, or sometimes with somewhat younger peers, usually to satisfy curiosity. This quite normal experimentation phase usually fades and disappears," Mondrowitz wrote.

Eliyahu would "benefit" from close interaction with a knowledgeable mashgiach or other Torah-true guidance figure," Mondrowitz recommended.

"An adult supporting figure could teach and encourage Eliyahu that, like hunger, thirst, or other basic needs, other desires must be controlled, channeled and satisfied in the proper time, place and manner."

In another set of documents, a Jerusalem City Council member, Shlomo Rozenshtein, responded to Mondrowitz's pitch to develop a "Spiritual Centre" near the Kotel, cc'ing then-Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski on the e-mail.

"The City of Jerusalem and the State of Israel have a deep interest in an idea as beautiful and challenging as your 'Spiritual Centre,'" he wrote.

At the Mondrowitz residence in Jerusalem a woman who answered the phone wouldn't put Mondrowitz on the phone to speak with a reporter.

“Sorry," she said before hanging up.

For at least one of Mondrowitz's alleged victims, his freedom and the judge's verdict are frightening.

“It's not about vengeance. It's about getting him of the street. I think the world is a less safe place because he's out and feels empowered," said Mark Weiss. "It's pitiful, is what it is. I think humanity has dropped the ball."