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Satmar Hasidic leader found guilty in child sex abuse case

By Nina Melendez, CNN
updated 8:10 PM EST, Tue December 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The abuse began when the girl was 12
  • Weberman was found guilty on all 59 counts
  • He faces a possible sentence of 117 years in prison
  • District attorney expresses hope that others will come forward

New York (CNN) -- A counselor in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community was found guilty Monday of sexually abusing a girl over a period of three years in a case that one victim's advocate described as marking "a new era."

Nechemya Weberman, 54, was found guilty on all 59 counts he was facing, including sexual conduct against a child. He faces a possible sentence of 117 years in prison, the Kings County District Attorney's office said.

The abuse began in 2007, when the girl's parents hired the unlicensed counselor to help their then-12-year-old daughter; it continued -- mostly in his office -- until 2010, the district attorney's office said in a news release. The victim, who testified at trial, is now 17, it said.

Pearl Reich, a former Orthodox Jew who identifies herself as a victim's advocate, said the verdict ushers in "a new era for the Jewish religious community." Reich told CNN affiliate WCBS that the victim will need a lot of help, but that Weberman's conviction is part of the healing process.

"We're very hopeful that this will lead to other young women in this community and other communities understanding that they can come forward," District Attorney Charles Hynes told reporters. "They will be protected."

The case highlighted practices of the conservative Satmar Hasidic community, many of whom live in the insular Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of South Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Joel Engelman, an advocate against sexual abuse among Orthodox Jews who described himself as a survivor of such abuse, said it is rare for respected members of the community to face such allegations in court.

In the past, members of the community have intimidated and pressured those who have accused their leaders of sexual abuse, he said.

The case came to light last year, when four men were arrested and accused of trying to bribe Weberman's victim and her boyfriend to get them to drop the case against Weberman, a spokesman for the district attorney said.

"There was a huge fundraiser for the accused Weberman, and the entire community structure was filled with propaganda and hate against the victim in an effort to shut (her and her family) up," Engelman said. "Thankfully, the courage of the young survivor has been tremendous, and she was able to withstand and go through with the process."

George Farkas, Weberman's attorney, was not available for comment. Sentencing is set for January 9.

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