Massive Witness Tampering in Jewish Sex Case
IN A TIGHT-KNIT, some say insular, community, social pressure can go a long way. Many cases of suspected child abuse in the Orthodox [Jewish] world have been tainted by suspicions of witness tampering. Now, in a landmark New Jersey case, a Lakewood man is accused of trying to pressure the father of a young victim to not testify in his son’s case. Shaul Luban, 31, could face five years behind bars.
“This sends a message to the Lakewood Charedi community that those who abuse children — including the intimidation of victims and their families — will be prosecuted,” said Ben Hirsch, the president of Survivors for Justice, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of sexual abuse inside the Jewish community. “Clearly not everyone in the Lakewood Yeshiva community has gotten the message.”
And in at least one instance, it seems, the message went to the wrong person.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office says that Luban sent out text messages urging residents of Lakewood to try to pressure an alleged victim’s father into not testifying. A non-Jewish college student received one of those texts, according to prosecutors, and when she called the number she was told that she should forget ever having received it. The girl called the police, the text message was retrieved and it is being used as evidence against Luban.
The case in question involves Yosef Kolko (pictured), 33, a Lakewood Yeshiva teacher and camp counselor who is accused of sexually abusing a boy under 13 in the summers between 2007 and 2009. Kolko faces several serious charges including aggravated sexual assault that could send him to prison for up to 60 years.
“The victim’s family has received a tremendous amount of pressure not to go forward,” explained Laura Pierro, an Ocean County assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case.
In October of 2009, in an unrelated sexual abuse case involving an Orthodox defendant, a New York State Supreme Court judge criticized what he called, “a communal attitude that seems to impose greater opprobrium on the victims than the perpetrator.”
Judge Gustin Reichbach, according to an account in The Jewish Week, said that he found it “troubling” that the Orthodox community “seeks to blame, indeed punish, victims who seek justice from the … civil society.”
“The erroneous belief that incidents of abuse can be resolved within the community results in the problem exacerbating,” said Hirsch. “We urge Lakewood’s Charedi leadership to make it clear that both halacha and secular law mandate all incidences of childhood sexual abuse be reported directly to the police. They’re the only ones who can deal with this issue.”
The charges against Kolko seem to have hit a nerve in Lakewood. A flier distributed in the New Jersey town last Wednesday that was provided to The Jewish Star names the alleged victim’s father in the headline and states that he “makes a mockery of the Torah.”
The father, dubbed “Harav HaMosser” (the rabbi, the informer) went to the police “without going to a beis din and without the Haskama (permission) of any” rabbi and proceeded to press charges even after he was approached by prominent members of Beis Medrash Govoha, the famous yeshiva founded by Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l.
“The ground in Lakewood should be shaking by your reaction…” said the unsigned letter, which named the victim of the alleged abuse. “Surely Shamaim (heaven) is shaking over the Chilul Hashem Hanorah (the clear desecration of G-d’s name).”
The letter was a “crime and should be treated as such,” Hirsch said.
“The individual charged with intimidation is not a faculty or staff member, employee, nor representative of the Yeshiva,” said Rabbi Aaron Kotler, CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha, in a statement to The Jewish Star. “We consider intimidation in any form or format to be entirely wrong and improper.”
According to someone who is close to both defendants, Luban was simply trying to help his friend Kolko.
“He didn’t know he was doing anything illegal; it was totally innocuous,” the person said. When the police first came to talk with him, the person said, Luban admitted his involvement.
“They took notes about everything he said and they’re charging him,” the person said. “It’s a sad story. He has to come up with $10-20,000 to defend himself. He’s a regular guy. He’s a little modern for Lakewood. He’s going to school now and he’s working. He’s like a Five Towns-type of guy.”
“It’s not your typical child molester story, there’s absolutely no shred of evidence about anything,” the person claimed. “Kolko has been in education his entire life — he was a camp counselor, a Pirchei leader, an English teacher, a Hebrew teacher — and no one came forward. He’s in this business for 18 years. You can be sure that yeshivas do their own investigation.”
Other factors are at play in Kolko’s prosecution, the person claimed, including the fact that he is unmarried and that his uncle is Yehuda Kolko, a longtime teacher at Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Temimah, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to multiple counts of child endangerment, and is suspected of molesting dozens of children over his 40-year tenure at the school.
“Because of his uncle, should [Kolko] have to sit in jail?” the person asked.
He also faulted the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office.
“Prosecutors around here they dislike the fact that frum people deal with their problems among themselves and they don’t bring their problems to the secular authorities,” the person asserted. “For the first time somebody turned over someone to prosecution, [so] you have an anxious prosecutor who penetrated the black wall of silence. She’s the first one to have an Orthodox Jew testifying against an Orthodox Jew. They’re going to have a great time. It’s unfortunate that this person [Kolko] should have to suffer.”