U.S. News

05.21.14

The Brooklyn Rabbi and His Child Porn Collection

Samuel Waldman, one of the main alleged child porn purveyors named in ‘Operation Caireen,’ is only the latest in a series of scandals buffeting Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox community.

Among the 71 people charged in Wednesday’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement child porn ring bust, there are more than a handful of surprising offenders, including a Little League coach and a former Westchester police chief. But for those familiar with the Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox community’s repeated failure to report sexual abuse, seeing Rabbi Samuel Waldman arrested for the alleged possession of child pornography is no shocker.

It was Waldman’s own disturbing collection of child pornography, law enforcement officials say, that helped lead them to uncover dozens of other purveyors in “Operation Caireen.” His was one of two initial investigations—the other was of Brian Fanelli, a one-time Mount Pleasant police chief—that eventually led to Wednesday’s announcement of 71 arrests. On March 5, Waldman, 52, was charged with the transportation and distribution of child pornography. According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, Waldman shared multiple child pornography files on publicly available peer-to-peer networks out of his home in the Kensington section of Brooklyn. These files, the complaint alleges, included a video of girls “between the ages of approximately four and eleven years of age” performing oral sex and being anally and vaginally penetrated by older men, and a clip of a naked prepubescent boy “being masturbated by another unknown person until the child ejaculates.”

At the time, Waldman was a teacher at the all-girls Beth Jacobs Teachers Seminary in Brooklyn. While the school declined to disclose any information about the ages of students to The Daily Beast, the National Center for Education Statistics says Beth Jacobs offers ninth- through 12th-grade education. Waldman was ordered not to engage in any employment with access to children; when asked if he was still teaching at the school, a woman who answered the phone at the school hung up.

The Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox community has been plagued with sexual molestation charges in recent years, many of them stemming back decades. It has a history of harboring and protecting alleged molesters while shaming and intimidating those who attempt to come forward with allegations of abuse.

In 2012, when an ultra-Orthodox family decided to sue Yeshiva Torah Temimah, the school where their son allegedly was molested by a teacher, they were pressured to drop their lawsuit. A prominent Brooklyn rabbi and Yaakov Applegrad, an administrator at the Flatbush seminary, “compared the parents to Nazis for attempting to ‘bankrupt’ the yeshiva,” The Jewish Week reported.

The teacher Applegrad was defending, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, allegedly sexually abused his students for more than three decades. In 2008, he was accused of molesting two first-graders but pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to three years’ probation. According to a New York magazine investigation, Kolko’s abuse went as far back as the 1970s.

Sexual abuse often goes unpunished in the ultra-Orthodox community because victims are shamed into silence or blatantly pressured, as in the Kolko case, never to reveal information to the secular world.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman received public support from the ultra-Orthodox community after his March 5 arrest.

In 2012, Rabbi David Zweibel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox group, instructed members of the community not to report abuse to police until they consulted with their rabbis first. “We’re not going to compromise our essence and our integrity because we are nervous about a relationship that may be damaged with a government leader,” he said.

Even if the claims are pursued within the community, justice is imperfect , to say the least. According to a letter from Rabbi Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg posted on the blog FailedMessiah, Kolko was investigated on sexual abuse charges by a council of rabbis in 1985 and found innocent. “Because Kolko did not penetrate his victims, there was no actual abuse,” said the lead rabbi, according to witnesses to the ruling.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman received public support from the ultra-Orthodox community after his March 5 arrest. “I’m certain he’ll be acquitted of everything. He’s a nice, honorable, respectable person,” a neighbor told PIX 11. When told federal officials had traced child porn to the IP address on Waldman’s computer, the neighbor said: “I’m even surprised he has a computer.”

Whether Waldman will find the same level of support now that he is linked to an even bigger and more disturbing child pornography bust remains to be seen.