Brooklyn District Attorney Candidate Ken Thompson Backpedals on Hasidic Abuse Scandal

Insists Has Open Mind on Sam Kellner Extortion Case

Say What? Brooklyn District Attorney frontrunner Ken Thompson has slammed his opponent Charles Hynes for prosecuting a prominent advocate for abuse victims in the Hasidic community. Why is he now hedging his position?
getty Images
Say What? Brooklyn District Attorney frontrunner Ken Thompson has slammed his opponent Charles Hynes for prosecuting a prominent advocate for abuse victims in the Hasidic community. Why is he now hedging his position?

By Paul Berger

Published November 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

On the campaign trail, Ken Thompson, the Democratic candidate for Brooklyn district attorney, has sharply criticized incumbent Charles Hynes’ prosecution of a prominent Hasidic advocate against sexual abuse, even attending a rally calling for charges against the man to be dropped.

But Thompson, who is widely expected to win the November 5 election, is now hedging his position on the case of Sam Kellner.

“As the D.A. I’m going to get in and look at all the evidence I’m not [currently] privy to,” said Thompson, when asked about the case.

Beyond that, in an October 30 interview with the Forward, Thompson refused to discuss the Kellner case, or his own previous statements questioning Kellner’s guilt.

Asked why it was proper for him to comment in July, when he was a candidate for district attorney in the Democratic Party primary, but not now, Thompson said that since he won the nomination in September he can no longer comment on the case.

“There’s a difference,” Thompson told the Forward. But he acknowledged that given his earlier appearance at the rally for Kellner, “it may appear that I took a position.”

Kellner was arrested in April, 2011, on charges of extortion and bribery related to a landmark sex abuse conviction that has since collapsed.

Prosecutors said that Kellner paid a witness $10,000 to falsely testify that he was sexually abused by Baruch Lebovits, whom Kellner says also abused his own son. Kellner was also charged with trying to extort the Lebovits family over the abuse allegations.

Kellner’s trial, which has been delayed several times, is due to begin November 12.

Thompson’s campaign website still refers to Kellner’s prosecution as “botched”. It’s a fair characterization, given that prosecutors admitted in a pre-trial hearing, in July, that a key witness in the case against Kellner gave contradictory testimony.

But Thompson’s site goes on to claim, erroneously, that “Lebovits’s lawyers used the Kellner prosecution to have his conviction overturned.” In fact, Lebovits’s conviction was reversed because prosecutors withheld a key piece of evidence from the defense at Lebovits’ trial.

Asked about the error regarding Lebovits’s case, Thompson repeated that it was “not proper” for him to comment on pending cases. Thompson stunned political observers in September when he won the Democratic nomination for District Attorney, beating Hynes, who has held the office for 24 years.

Hynes conceded and offered to smooth Thompson’s transition into office. Then, in a dramatic reversal, Hynes changed his mind and opted to run on the Republican ticket.

The Brooklyn D.A.’s race has been marred by mud-slinging on both sides, including vicious Yiddish-language ads. One ad, posted in two Satmar newspapers, blamed Thompson’s primary victory on “the minority element that seeks lawlessness.”

Supporters of Thompson, who is black, have condemned the ad as racist. Hynes denied having sponsored the ad. At the same time, he denied it was racist. Thompson told the Forward that the ad was “disgraceful.”

He also criticized Hynes for his previous statements labeling the ultra-Orthodox community as “worse than the mafia.” Hynes was referring to the prevalence of witness intimidation against victims of sex abuse who choose to cooperate with police.

“The mafia kills. The mafia murders,” Thompson said. “And for [Hynes] as a top prosecutor to compare any community in Brooklyn to the mafia is wrong.”

Thompson said that he would wait until he was in office before he makes a decision about whether to continue Kol Tzedek, a program started by Hynes to combat sex abuse in the Orthodox community.

Hynes controversially refused to divulge names of people accused and even convicted of abuse against Orthodox children. He argued that shielding perpetrators’ names protected the identity of the victim.

Thompson has vowed to end the practice.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.