Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Prosecutor describes abuse at Lakewood yeshiva teacher Yosef Kolko's sex-assault trial

TOMS RIVER — Yosef Kolko was a popular camp counselor who helped an unpopular young boy fit in during the summer after the fifth grade, in 2007, a jury of nine men and seven women heard this morning.

Kolko recruited the boy, who was teased by his peers, to sing in the camp choir and take roles in camp plays, Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Laura Pierro told the panel.

The activity was great for the shy boy who was wildly into music but usually kept to himself and was shunned by kids his own age, she said.

“That elation would soon be replaced by a profound sense of discomfort,” Pierro said.

The following summer, when the boy returned to Yachad, the summer camp run by Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School on Swarthmore Avenue in Lakewood, Kolko started to sexually abuse the boy, Pierro told the jury.

Kolko, a counselor at the camp who also taught at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, would rub up against the boy, then 11, engage in acts of oral sex with him and attempt to perform other sexual acts on the child, Pierro said.

The abuse was repeated and occurred at the camp, in a car, in woods near a park and even in a bathroom at a synagogue, Pierro said.

“Sadly,” Pierro said, “that 30-something -year-old man was his best friend.”

The boy, whose name is being withheld to protect his identity, revealed the sexual abuse to a therapist in February of 2009. When the boy’s family was told, the child’s father, a prominent rabbi in Lakewood’s Orthodox community, confronted Kolko, demanding he seek help and quit working with children, Pierro said. The father recorded the conversation, she said. Kolko never denied the accusations and went with him to see another rabbi, she said.

The father sought to have a rabbinical council handle the accusations, but when Kolko eventually refused to cooperate in the process, the victim and his family in July of 2009 went to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, shunning their religious traditions that such matters be handled by rabbis and not secular authorities.

Because “”one Jew is not to inform on another,” Pierro said, the father has since resigned his prestigious teaching position, and the family has moved from Lakewood.

Kolko’s attorney, Michael F. Bachner, said the child is lying, possibly because of pressure from others in the Orthodox community or maybe because Kolko tried to keep his distance from the boy.

In the end, Bachner said, “there was a decision made that Yosef Kolko was getting thrown under the bus.”

The comments were made during opening arguments of Kolko’s trial before Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson.

Kolko, now 39, of Geffen Drive, is charged with aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment.

Bachner said Kolko’s silence in denying the accusations brought by the victim’s father had nothing to do with guilt, but with respect for a respected rabbi in his community.

“The respect for a rabbinical authority is enormous,” Bachner said. “Kolko’s only remark to (the boy’s father) was, Are you trying to destroy me?’ ”

Bachner said the boy’s father gave Kolko an ultimatum: Quit his job and go to therapy or the father would got to the secular authorities.

Kolko told him, “I can’t do that. I didn’t do anything wrong. Do what you have to do,” Bachner said. “And he continued to work.”

The boy at the center of the case is expected to testify when the trial resumes after the lunch break.

Kolko is free on $125,000 bail. If he is convicted of the charges, he could face up to 60 years in prison.

READ MORE: www.sfjny.org


"I have clients in their 80s who have been carrying abuse around for 75 years."

Boston clergy abuse lawyer calls for raising age limit on lawsuits against child molesters

BOSTON — An attorney who helped lead an $85 million child sexual abuse settlement against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston before revealing that he had been a victim of child molestation urged state lawmakers to raise the statute of limitations on sex-abuse lawsuits.

The measure, heard Tuesday by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, would give victims until age 55 to file civil claims against their alleged attackers. Under current Massachusetts law, most victims have only until age 21 to bring civil lawsuits, according to backers of the legislation.

"It's not going to be complete justice, there will never be complete justice," attorney Eric MacLeish said before meeting with lawmakers.

"But this bill will be so helpful for so many people and I would like to think that it could have been helpful to me," he said, adding that he would argue for the bill from both the standpoint of a lawyer and abuse victim.

MacLeish brought a picture showing himself at age 9 with classmates at a boarding school in England, where he said he was sexually abused by a teacher.

MacLeish was among the lawyers in the landmark 2003 clergy abuse case that led to compensation for hundreds of people who said they were abused by priests as children. Yet during that time, he did not reveal his own grim experiences.

"Even though I knew I was a tough advocate for people who had been sexually abused ... the most terrifying thing for me, that I never spoke about, was going back and confronting the people who had molested me," he said.

After the settlement with the church, MacLeish suffered post-traumatic stress brought on by years of dealing with the stories of others who had been sexually abused, he said. He was haunted in particular by the case of one client who had been raped as a 9-year-old boy.

MacLeish gave up his law practice, got divorced and suffered flashbacks, nausea and insomnia.

An exception to current Massachusetts law allows people over the age of 21 to sue their alleged abusers if  a claim is filed within three years of the time they first realize that they had been harmed by past abuse.

MacLeish said in his case, he had never repressed the memories of abuse, even recalling details as vivid as the pattern of the wallpaper in the room where he had been molested.

"I never forgot it, but I was never able to deal with it," he said. "I was afraid to go there. I thought that if I did I would become unraveled. My elixir, my medication, was representing abuse victims and trying to save people."

Mitchell Garabedian, another Boston attorney who advocates for abuse victims, said raising to 55 the age up until which a person can file claims would recognize the difficulty many people have confronting the trauma until well into adulthood.

"Even if a person realizes they were abused and it caused them problems, they still might not have the coping mechanism to call someone up and say, 'I'll have to do something about this.'" Garabedian said. "I have clients in their 80s who have been carrying abuse around for 75 years."

Those skeptical of raising the statute of limitations say the long passages of time, scarcity of witnesses and sometimes vague recollections of events can make it difficult for the accused to get a fair hearing.

Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University who specializes in child sex-abuse statutes of limitations and supports the Massachusetts bill, said several other states, including California, New York and Pennsylvania, are considering similar legislation.