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New York Hasidic leader gets 103 years for abuse

Satmar Hasidim celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on May 9, 2012, in the village of Kiryas Joel, New York
Thousands of Satmar Hasidim celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on May 9, 2012, in the village of Kiryas Joel, New York. A leader of the reclusive Orthodox Jewish sect in New York was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a

A leader of an Orthodox Jewish sect in New York was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a young girl, capping a scandal that lifted the lid on the Hasidic group's parallel society.

Nechemya Weberman, a prominent figure in the ultra-strict Satmar branch of Hasidic Jews, was convicted of abusing the girl over the course of three years in the Brooklyn neighborhood where their community has a huge enclave and he worked as an unlicensed counselor.

Ahead of the judge's sentencing, the victim told the court that Weberman acted "without the slightest bit of mercy," leaving her as "a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin."

The case caused an uproar in the Satmar community, shattering a code of silence imposed by the group's insistence on dealing with matters internally and not going to the police.

"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," District Attorney Charles Hynes said.

"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."

Weberman, 54, was convicted on 59 counts of criminal sexual acts, abuse, and child endangerment.

The trial was marred by allegations of intimidation by Weberman's supporters, including an attempt to bribe the girl into dropping her case. Several men were also accused of illegally taking pictures of the accuser and putting them online.

The defense claimed that the girl made up the accusations to take revenge against Weberman for informing her parents that she'd revealed to him she was romantically involved with a boy -- something banned in their community.

With no physical evidence, the young woman's testimony was the prosecution's key, as well as her composure under harrowing cross-examination by Weberman's powerful legal team.

The jury sided with the accuser, who was 12 when the abuse started and has now married.

In her statement at the sentencing, the victim recalled not being able to sleep "because the horrifying images of the recent gruesome invasion which had been done to her body kept replaying."

She said she had lost her self-respect and had wanted to be a normal teenager, but "was stuck being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to experience and perform sickening acts for his sick sense of pleasure again and again."

Over the course of the trial, in a Brooklyn courtroom packed with Hasidic men wearing traditional black coats and women in wigs, a picture of a closed community that has little in common with the rest of America's biggest city.

Witnesses told of pressure to keep away from the authorities, rules against using everyday modern tools like computers, and the dominance of internal Satmar institutions, including schools.

The victim had been in trouble at her school because she chafed at the old-fashioned modesty rules, such as frequent checks on the thickness of girls' tights and having to keep shirts buttoned up to the throat.

It was then that she was ordered to go for expensive counseling with Weberman, or face being expelled.

The court heard that Weberman had complete power over his charge, one day taking her for an unauthorized car drive of 12 hours, then forcing the parents to apologize for their impertinence when they complained about what they considered an inappropriate excursion for their daughter.

The girl's family has been hounded since her shocking decision to go to the police. The father's business has collapsed and the girl was forced to find another school, the court heard.

The victim told other abuse victims too afraid to come forward: "You have a voice even if you think no one will believe you and even when you're so scared of being chased and crushed by your community."

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