In a weak but still valuable report, the Daily News confirms what the Jewish Week first reported Wednesday –
Brooklyn's D.A. pushed victims' families to accept a horrible plea deal that allows Kolko to walk free.
The Daily News reports:
The families of two boys allegedly molested by a Brooklyn rabbi are upset at a deal that allowed the clergyman to plead guilty to a misdemeanor with no jail time.
Rabbi Joel Kolko, 62, was facing felony child sex abuse charges and should have never been allowed to plead out to child endangerment on Monday, one parent told the Daily News on Thursday.
"I'm very disappointed. I feel justice was not served," said the father, whose story first appeared on the Jewish Week Web site. "You have no idea how much pain this guy caused us. And this SOB walks away a free man."
Kolko, who taught first-graders for years at the Yeshiva Torah Teminah in Flatbush, was charged in 2006 with sexually abusing three children.
The families approved the deal, but they say prosecutors talked them into it and they regret it, Jewish Week reported.
"They said it would be better this way," the father told the Daily News. "The whole thing is just a smack in the face....It's a joke."
The case started falling apart when prosecutors learned the oldest victim, now an adult, had lied in an unrelated matter, law enforcement sources said. Also, the children would have had to testify in court, not on video, said Jerry Schmetterer, spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney.
"This plea deal is a measure of justice," said Schmetterer. "Looking at what we had to present in court, this was the deal we needed to work out."
Kolko, who is still facing a civil suit from the alleged victims and from three others, has maintained his innocence, defense lawyer Jeffrey Schwartz said.
"It was an irresponsible investigation," he said. "These prosecutors just didn't think it through, and they didn't investigate it properly."
What the Daily News has done here is truly irresponsible.
First, it takes at their word "law enforcement sources" (see my comments here) mentioned in an earlier Daily News piece who claim it was the sudden discovery that the adult victim had once lied (not in court, not on a witness stand) that made the case fall apart.
The Daily News first claimed, based on their "law enforcement sources," that the adult victim "had been charged with making up unrelated accusations against others." These sources and the Daily News were later changed that to read, "had lied in an unrelated matter."
That matter, it seems, was a very minor crime. The adult victim lied to protect a friend. He did not make up false allegations about others or about sexual abuse.
I've also been told prosecutors were aware of that problem for a long time – not days before the plea.
Adult victims of child sexual abuse often have problems. This is something juries know well and prosecutors around the country – except in Brooklyn – deal with easily, and do so without smearing these victims in the media.
Further, the Daily News hangs the whole ridiculous plea on the adult victim, something that, even taking the D.A. at his word, is patently false.
As for the issue of testifying in person rather than through closed circuit television, as far as I know the judge did not forbid such testimony. In fact, the father of one of the child victims told the Jewish Week that prosecutors told him the judge had approved closed circuit television testimony for his son.
New York State law both provides for and encourages this type of testimony when dealing with children who are victims of sexual molestation. Psychologists with experience with the court maintain that judges tend ot go out of their way to approve closed circuit television testimony to protect the welfare to the children testifying.
While it is certainly possible the judge would have said no, that possibility – always present in these types of trials – is no reason to accept a plea that allowed Kolko to avoid registering as a sex offender and sees him serve no jail time.
I'd also note that there were only two child victims in this case, not three as the Daily News incorrectly reports.
Yet, as the Daily News and the Jewish Week have now made clear, the D.A.'s prosecutors pressured the parents of the child victims into accepting Kolko's plea.
This is not the first time a high profile case against a figure in the Orthodox Jewish community has been handled this way.
Indeed, in of these cases, first exposed by the Village Voice, Hynes let a the son of a prominent Syrian Jew off with a slap on the wrist.
What did the Syrian do?
He drove his car down a Brooklyn street recklessly, far exceeding the speed limit. And he struck and killed two sisters out for an innocent walk.
The boy's farther and family were large donors to Hynes election campaign.
Hynes's office said the victim's family agreed to the plea deal. The family of the dead girls, however, complained bitterly that Hynes had sold them out.
Make no mistake about it – Charles Hynes is an ethically challenged man who should be removed from office.
Will he be?
I think so. And I think this will happen much sooner than Hynes thinks possible.
UPDATE 4-18-08, 9:00 am – I spoke today with a source close to the adult victim.
He told me the incident the D.A. referred to was known to the D.A. even before Kolko's first arrest in 2006.
Further, the source described the incident as being minor. A friend of the victim was suspected of writing graffiti and doing some related property damage.
The victim was asked to fill out a government form about the incident. He did, denying knowledge of it.
The government later discovered that the victim had in fact witnessed the graffiti-writing.
This became "false swearing in the course of a federal investigation." His friend was cited with destroying government property valued in excess of $100.
This took place eight years ago.
Please read my earlier post for more details on this plea deal, and for the Jewish Week's groundbreaking coverage of it.