Rabbi Is Charged With Threatening a Witness in a Rape Case
June 23, 1999
A prominent Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn was indicted yesterday on felony charges that he made death threats against a woman scheduled to testify that her father had repeatedly raped her as a child, officials with the Kings County District Attorney's office said.
The rabbi, Bernard Freilich, 47, of Borough Park, was charged by a grand jury with witness tampering, witness intimidation and harassment, said Kevin Davitt, a spokesman for the District Attorney's office. If convicted of the most serious charges -- tampering with a witness and intimidation of a witness -- Rabbi Freilich could spend up to four years in prison, Mr. Davitt said.
Noting that Rabbi Freilich had previously pleaded innocent to misdemeanor charges of the same crimes, the rabbi's lawyer, George Meissner, said his client would also plead innocent to the felonies. He is to be arraigned in about two weeks.
''He's not guilty, absolutely not guilty,'' Mr. Meissner said, adding that the community supports his client. He said he did not know whether the father and daughter were members of the rabbi's congregation. Prosecutors said the rabbi and the father were close friends.
Mr. Meissner said that his client had repeatedly offered to take a polygraph test, if his accusers would do the same.
''Why these people picked on him, I have no idea,'' he said.
Mr. Davitt noted yesterday that the results of polygraph tests are not admissible in court. ''It would have no value to either party,'' he said.
According to prosecutors, on April 25, Mr. Freilich went to the home of the woman, whose name was not released, and warned her that she ''would end up in the cemetery'' if she testified against her father.
The father was charged on Feb. 28 with first-degree rape, incest, sexual abuse and harassment. Prosecutors said he repeatedly molested his daughter over several years. The father was arrested again in April and charged with witness tampering and criminal contempt. Despite a restraining order, prosecutors said, he pounded on his daughter's door, yelling that unless she took back the charges, it would be her last day on earth.
Prosecutors said Pinchas Shor, another prominent member of the Borough Park neighborhood, has also been charged with witness tampering in the case.
Asked why Rabbi Freilich was not originally charged with felony counts, Mr. Davitt said that police officials at the 66th Precinct station house in Borough Park had been insistent that the charges remain misdemeanors. Mr. Davitt declined to speculate on their motivation.
Before he was charged, Rabbi Freilich had been a special assistant and spiritual adviser to Superintendent James McMahon of the New York State Police. He has been suspended without pay, according to the state police and his lawyer.