Owner of Music Schools Charged With Molesting 9-Year-Old
In April, the girl’s mother walked in on the owner, Ilya Lehman, during a private lesson at the girl’s home on the Upper West Side, prosecutors said. The mother found Mr. Lehman inappropriately touching the girl, prosecutors said in court records, and the next day the girl told her mother that Mr. Lehman had repeatedly touched her under her panties and had her touch him inside his underwear.
The girl’s parents soon after confronted Mr. Lehman, a naturalized United States citizen from Russia, and he left for Russia, returned to New York briefly, then went back to Russia again, according to prosecutors. He was arrested on July 15 at Kennedy International Airport as he returned to New York after nearly three months.
Mr. Lehman runs three locations of his music and dance school, The Early Ear, on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. The schools offer classes for children from 4 months to 5 years old, according to its Web site.
Mr. Lehman modeled the schools after a program he created in the former Soviet Union, with the objective to prepare students for private instruction by age 5, according to a 2004 article published in The New York Observer. The article said that Mr. Lehman has a doctorate in music from the Moscow Conservatory and founded the school with his son, Michael, in 1992.
“The most important point,” he was quoted as saying, was “that kids love you.”
Because he is considered a flight risk, Mr. Lehman has been held without bail since his arrest. He appeared at State Supreme Court on Wednesday and was arraigned on two counts of sexual abuse, each of which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Mr. Lehman’s lawyer, Raymond R. Granger, pleaded not guilty on his client’s behalf and then said that Mr. Lehman was having difficulty understanding the proceeding. Justice Jill Konviser scheduled another appearance, with an interpreter present, for Thursday morning.
Outside of court, Mr. Granger said his client would fight the charges.
“This case is based entirely on a statement from a child who originally stated that nothing inappropriate had happened, and whose subsequent statement to the contrary was made under what may have been extremely suggestive circumstances,” he said.
Justice Konviser asked Nahal Batmanghelidj, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, whether Mr. Lehman had been offered a plea deal. Ms. Batmanghelidj said he had not because more victims may come forward.
“At this time, we don’t know what direction this investigation is heading,” Ms. Batmanghelidj said.
A spokeswoman for Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement that parents who are concerned because their children have worked with Mr. Lehman can contact the office’s child abuse hot line at (212) 335-4308.
“If parents plan on speaking with their own children about this matter, they should feel free to consult the D.A.’s office or an appropriate Web site for guidance on such conversations,” said the spokeswoman, Joan Vollero.