NEW YORK, N.Y. - A religious counsellor in New York City's ultra-orthodox Jewish community was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for molesting a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
Nechemya Weberman was convicted in December of 59 counts, including sustained sexual abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
The trial put a spotlight on the city's ultra-orthodox community and its strict rules that govern interaction with the outside world. The city is home to the largest community of ultra-orthodox Jews outside Israel, more than 250,000.
Both Weberman, 54, and the girl belonged to the Satmar Hasidic sect, which has its own ambulances, volunteer police and rabbinical courts. Followers are discouraged from going to secular authorities.
During the trial, men were arrested on charges they tried to bribe the girl and her now-husband to drop the case. Others were accused of taking photos of her on the witness stand and posting them online.
The accuser, now 18, testified that Weberman abused her repeatedly behind his locked office door from the time she was 12 until she was 15.
Her school had ordered her to see Weberman because she had been asking questions about her religion and was dressing immodestly in violation of the sect's customs. Weberman wasn't a licensed counsellor but spent decades working with couples and families.
There was no physical evidence of abuse.
The woman's husband, Hershey Deutsch, spoke to reporters outside court, recounting through tears how difficult it was to watch her struggle with coming forward.
"She definitely feels relief. She can sleep more tonight," he said.
The defence argued that the girl was angry that Weberman had told her parents she had a boyfriend at age 15, which is forbidden in the community. Attorney Stacey Richman said the case came down to a simple "he said, she said."
"She's making things up in front of you as they occur," Richman told jurors.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said he hoped the case would persuade other victims to come forward. Hynes has been accused of overlooking crimes in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community because he was too cozy with powerful rabbis, a charge he vehemently denies.
Weberman said "no thank you" when asked if he wished to speak. He had no visible reaction to the sentence. The top charge carried a sentence of 25 years; he got consecutive terms for some of the other charges.
The Associated Press typically doesn't identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.
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