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Brooklyn District Attorney Candidate Ken Thompson Backpedals on Hasidic Abuse Scandal

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 [email protected] or on Twitter @pdberger

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