|Bizarre Rabbi's Incest Trial Tests Right to Self-Representation
By Samuel Newhouse
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
March 10, 2009
CADMAN PLAZA EAST – During cross-examinations in the trial of Israel Weingarten, a former Brooklyn yeshiva teacher who is representing himself against incestual rape-related charges, the audience heard objection upon objection.
But the objections did not come from the prosecution. They came from the judge.
"That's enough on this subject," stated Judge John Gleeson numerous times. "Wait until [the witness] finishes his answer before you ask another question."
As Weingarten, charged with transporting his daughter across international borders for sex, continued to conduct his own defense this week in Brooklyn federal court, part of that pro-se right to self-representation includes the ability to cross examine the witnesses and even the victim in Weingarten's case.
Most of Weingarten's questions were buried in lengthy monologues of his Yiddish-inflected, heavily-accented English. For instance, last week, he cross-examined his son Yoineson about their family history.
"Isn't that true that the last time when you had a Passover in Belgium was when my mother died and my father didn't want the Seder in his house. It's a holy day. A two-day celebration. … Do you remember I put my head down on the dining room table and I was crying, that, 'What happen here?' You hit your sister in the face."
"No, I don't remember," his son said.
"You don't recall that I put my head down, your own father crying like a baby, at, 'How this happen?'"
"I don't recall it," his son said, growing visibly exasperated.
After jurors exited for a break last week, Judge John Gleeson, who dons a suit in court instead of traditional judicial robes, stood up and lectured Weingarten.
"You have these long narrative questions that aren't really questions," Judge Gleeson said last week. "They're you saying what happened. I'm not going to let you keep doing it. ... You can take the stand as a witness yourself to put forward your version of events."
"I'm trying to give you a fair trial," the exasperated judge concluded.
The courtroom in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York appears to have been rearranged for this trial. Weingarten, 58, stands at a podium facing the judge and witness stand while cross-examining various family members and witnesses.
Weingarten's now-adult son and daughter (his alleged victim) testified for the prosecution last week, and he cross-examined them with an eye to creating a credible alibi and defense for himself. His questions have implied that his daughter was sexually promiscuous and slept with an adult neighbor, and that his son and daughter were sexually involved with each other.
Weingarten asked his son last week repeatedly about numbingly small details about a deposition he gave to Rockland County authorities.
"I'm not going to let you quiz him – don't interrupt -- about what he said on a prior occasion," Judge Gleeson interrupted Weingarten at that point.
Some questions seem completely irrelevant, such as: "How late were you coming home from the yeshiva during the summertime?"
Several jurors fidgeted in their seats, while some wore clear expressions of anger and contempt as they stared at Weingarten. At one point, a young woman at the prosecution table burst out laughing inexplicably.
The Weingarten family drama has burst into the federal court in full force, with some family members supporting Weingarten's alleged victim's story – her brother and mother for example – while some younger family members, and other acquaintances, are willing to testify that he is innocent.
Weingarten presented his own case Monday. Two adult daughters in their early 20s both testified on his behalf that their sister and his alleged victim had been molested by their mother.
He initially wanted to call several witnesses, including his six children who still live with him, but the judge forbade him from calling all of them, including his 13-year-old son.
Weingarten was indicted in August 2008, for charges of transporting his daughter across international lines to commit sex acts with her – specifically, between Hassidic Sat Mar communities in Antwerp, Belgium, Bet Shemesh, Israel and Monsey, New York in 1997. Weingarten faces 14 to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Federal prosecutors Andrea Goldbarg and Rachel Nash described Weingarten as a dangerous and deceptive criminal who is likely to flee the country, as he has spent much of the last two decades living abroad.
They said he's threatened relatives to protect his own reputation, and that he forced his son to write a confession of "inappropriate" behavior to protect himself. His defense is casting aspersions on other members.
In April 1997, according to a federal detention memorandum, Weingarten brought his daughter and family from Belgium to Israel, allegedly because he feared that community leaders in Antwerp were aware of his behavior. Over the next few months he traveled between various countries. He traveled to New York for one month while his father was dying, and only brought his daughter.
For one month, Weingarten brought her to Belgium alone as well, ostensibly to collect family belongings. "The abuse the victim suffered while alone with her father in Belgium was the worst she endured," states the detention memorandum.
The daughter enrolled in a school in Manchester in 1996 which gave her some measure of protection from her father. However in 1999 she refused to return home for the holidays and he attempted to kidnap her from a family that was protecting her.
"The defendant forced his way into the home of the head rabbi of the school and physically assaulted the rabbi and his wife," states the memorandum.
Federal prosecutors accuse Weingarten of "engag[ing] in deceit to evade justice repeatedly." His estranged wife filed for custody of their children in a rabbinical court in 2003, and after Weingarten refused to appear three times, was advised to appeal to Rockland County court. When Weingarten refused to appear or turn over any children, police from Rockland, Orange and Westchester counties banded together to locate him because of his failure to cooperate.
A Public Safety Director from the Sat Mar Community in Monroe, N.Y. contacted Child Protective Services in 2003 after he became suspicious of Weingarten, a step which helped precipitate the current trial.
He's worked in yeshivas for children and ran his own Sat Mar school in Belgium. In 2002, he worked in a Hasidic elementary and secondary school in Brooklyn.
Weingarten was originally represented by Kenneth Gribetz, former Rockland County District Attorney, who in 1995 lost his job for having a three-year affair with a younger woman and using taxpayer dollars to pay for her restaurants and hotels. He was also ostracized by the Orthodox Jewish community after police collected evidence from Gribetz' ex-lover's home including whips, a dog collar, sex toys and pictures of Gribetz modeling women's clothing.
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