Friday, June 09, 2017

Despite 15 years passing since the sexual abuse allegedly began, when Mirlis was a sophomore at the yeshiva, the case could still be prosecuted under Connecticut’s statute of limitations.

State Investigates Greer Yeshiva’s Licensing

Christopher Peak Photo
A student in one of the two yeshiva dorm buildings. WASSUPP WITH THIS YESHIVA BOY'S FINGERS?

Three weeks after losing a $20 million sexual abuse lawsuit, Rabbi Daniel Greer and the yeshiva he started in the Edgewood neighborhood may have new troubles at their doorstep.

The Yeshiva of New Haven
The yeshiva — where Greer allegedly abused minors for years, according to testimony in the recent trial in U.S. District Court in Hartford — remains open, allegedly under new management. Greer remains in the building, where prayer services take place on the second floor.

Two state regulatory agencies have now accused the yeshiva of operating a boarding school without proper certifications. Meanwhile, the state’s attorney’s office and local police have a file open on a possible criminal investigation of Greer, though it is not clear how active that investigation is. Experts said the state’s statute of limitations has not yet expired.

The scrutiny of the Orthodox Jewish high school ramped up in recent weeks after a federal jury sided last month with Eliyahu Mirlis, a student at the yeshiva from 2001 to 2005. The jurors concluded it was more likely than not — the standard used in civil cases — that Greer had sexually assaulted the teenaged Mirlis repeatedly over a three-year period, and that the yeshiva had demonstrated negligence and recklessness in allowing the sexual abuse to continue. To compensate for emotional and punitive damages, the jury awarded Mirlis a $20 million verdict — a sum that continues to balloon with interest, by nearly $4,400 a day. A second former student and school administrator also in a deposition revealed allegedly being sexually abused.

Meanwhile, on April 20, by letter, the State Department of Education informed the yeshiva’s director that he does not possess the special exemption required to legally operate a boarding school, violating state law.

Rabbi Daniel Greer outside federal court.
“It has come to the attention of the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) that you may be operating a boarding school for young men in New Haven, Connecticut without proper authorization,” wrote Laura Anastasio, an attorney who oversees the Department of Education’s legal and governmental affairs.The letter served as an official notice to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which has jurisdiction over the licensing, to review the yeshiva’s paperwork. ‘“By means of this letter, I am informing DCF of your school’s non-compliance with the statutory requirements for boarding facilities,” Anastasio wrote. The Independent obtained the state letter, titled “Notice of Violation and Opportunity for Compliance Meeting,” through a Freedom of Information Act request last week.

Despite a month’s time since the letter was sent by certified mail, CSDE had not heard back from the yeshiva as of late last week, agency spokeswoman Abbe Smith said.
DCF, which can bring a lawsuit against the yeshiva for non-compliance, plans to send a letter of their own this week, spokesman Gary Kleeblatt confirmed. That missive will tell the school that they needed to apply for the proper certifications immediately, he said.
Back In Business

The entryway to one of the dorms, littered with empty plastic bottles, cigarette butts..
Rabbi Greer created the not-for-profit in 1977 to open the yeshiva in the former Roger Sherman School at the corner of Elm and Norton Streets, according to a history of the institution written by Greer’s wife, Sarah Greer, in the newly published book Jews In New Haven Vol. X.  “The lion’s share of the effort from the very first parent meeting until the present was and is expended by Rabbi Daniel Greer. His vision and his high standards inform the entire institution,” she wrote. “Within a few short years of the school’s founding, Daniel Greer relinquished his private law practice to work full-time at Yeshiva.”She described the school’s “delightfully welcoming environment”: “Eschewing technology in the classroom and emphasiziing actual books, chalk and blackboards, students learn much in the mode of a bygone era.”

The school lost its students after the federal molestation case was publicly reported in May 2016. Since then new students have arrived from outside the state. Over two dozen students now take classes and reside at the school’s dorms.

The Independent spoke with current students on multiple visits to the Elm Street compound during the last two weeks. By their account, Greer shuttered his educational operation sometime last year. In its place, a Rabbi Avrohom Notis moved his yeshiva (started in Lakewood, N.J., and transferred to Deal, N.J.) to the New Haven building this academic year. Notis paid for the move, one teenager said.
The average boarder is 18 years old, students reported, but there are several minors on site. The youngest person living in the dorm is Notis’s son, a 16-year-old. The adolescents hail from Lakewood and Baltimore, Brooklyn and Monsey, N.Y., and as far abroad as London. Most will be leaving for vacation during the latter half of the summer, the students said.

Greer’s role in the new administration is limited, the students said. “He doesn’t have any power, if that’s what you mean,” one commented. “He’s kinda not involved.” Asked if Greer plays any part in the school, the student clarified that the rabbi often joins in prayer services. After all, “it’s his congregation we’re at,” the student explained.

When a reporter visited the yeshiva in person on a recent Thursday afternoon to try to speak to Greer, the school secretary Jean Ledbury buzzed him in. But as soon as he identified himself as a journalist, Ledbury immediately interrupted. “Out! Out! I thought you were here for services,” she said. “Please leave or else I’ll call the police.” She escorted the reporter to the front door. Upon being asked further questions in the doorway, Ledbury, now red in the face, trembled as she yelled, “Please leave! No!” Please! Leave!”

The Independent subsequently reached out to Greer, Notis and Greer’s lawyer William Ward for comment, leaving voicemails for each. None responded.
Boarding School Rule

YouTube/Larry Dressler
YouTube/Larry Dressler
Larry “Noodles” Dressler speaking to camera after ambushing Rabbi Daniel Greer outside the federal courthouse in Hartford.
Private schools are largely untouched by the state, outside of submitting attendance reports once a year. (There are some exceptions for those that voluntarily seek state approval as a nonpublic school, as such New Haven institutions as Cold Spring School, Hopkins and St. Bernadette have all done.)But a different, complex regulatory regime exists for boarding schools. Technically, by housing minors, the yeshiva is considered a child-care facility, under DCF’s purview. Unless, that is, the yeshiva obtains a pass from the State Board of Education, proving it’s an educational institution. Without that certificate of exemption, the boarding school must have a DCF license.

According to representatives from the two state agencies, the yeshiva does not possess a DCF license or a certificate of exemption, nor has the school ever applied for either. In fact, the yeshiva hadn’t submitted any paperwork to the state since 2011, Smith said.

The yeshiva received a five-year authorization to operate a day school back in 2001, Smith noted. After that expired in 2006, the school was expected to seek accreditation by a state-approved agency. “The Gan School did not do that,” Smith said, using one of the several interchangeable names for the Yeshiva of New Haven. (For years the building’s elementary and middle school was called the Gan and its high school the Yeshiva of New Haven.)

Additionally, the school hasn’t submitted mandatory attendance reports since the end of the 2010-11 school year, when the school reported that seven staffers taught 62 students, according to Smith. Technically, though, state law holds parents responsible for that oversight, not the school. The statute indicates that parents or guardians are responsible for ensuring their kids attend a public school “or show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools,” until the child receives a high school diploma or turns 18 years old.

Because of that technicality, the two agencies are focusing on whether the yeshiva has its paperwork in order to run a boarding school.

State regulators reexamined the yeshiva’s filings after being inadvertently tipped off to the violation by blogger Lawrence Dressler, a former active member of the prayer community at the school who has followed the sexual abuse suit in detail on his blog, where he has written over 185 posts about the rabbi. (Greer’s attorneys attempted to get a restraining order against Dressler for allegedly “stalking” the rabbi.) This spring, Dressler notified the Department of Education that he has seen drunk teens outside the Greer-owned apartment buildings on Elm Street that house the yeshiva students.

Based on introductory conversations with the yeshiva over the past several weeks, Kleeblatt said he expects that the yeshiva will comply with DCF’s demands.

“We need to determine if, in fact, they have boarding students, and if they do, we want to see them take one of those actions” — obtaining either of the documents, Kleeblatt said. “That’s what the law requires, and we expect them to cooperate. If it’s necessary, we are prepared to enforce the statute by going to court, but we are expecting to receive cooperation.”
Criminal Prosecution Possible, Until 2020

Mirlis’s attorney Antonio Ponvert outside federal court.
Despite 15 years passing since the sexual abuse allegedly began, when Mirlis was a sophomore at the yeshiva, the case could still be prosecuted under Connecticut’s statute of limitations.
 Both the New Haven Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed that the case file remains open but they declined to share any further details about its progress. For a variety of reasons, no new activity has taken place for at least months in the investigation, according to local police, and no one has confirmed speaking with police since Mirlis initially contacted them.

Reworked by the legislature in 2002, shortly after the Boston Globe’s explosive stories about sexual abuse by Catholic priests, Connecticut’s revised law gives the state’s attorney 30 years from the date a victim turns age 18 or five years from the date a victim reports the case to authorities — whichever comes sooner. Mirlis filed a police report in 2015, he confirmed at last month’s trial, giving the state until 2020 to take up his case.

Connecticut was among the earlier states to reform its statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, said Marci Hoffman, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and research chair at Cardozo Law School. While it hasn’t gone as far as the roughly 15 states that have eliminated their time limits altogether, their decades-long window is “pretty generous,” she added.

Why is such a lengthy period of time necessary? “The science of traumatology is increasingly explaining why it is often victims need until their 40s or 50s to come forward. Trauma affects each individual differently, but it operates so that the victim is often disabled from either coping with it or understanding it. It really does take someone into their adulthood to understand that they didn’t have a childhood,” Hoffman explained.

And just because a case is old doesn’t mean it’s no longer a matter of public safety, she added. “One of the things that the public doesn’t understand is that child perpetrators often attack children well into their elderly years. Even if you identify someone in their 60s or 70s, you may still prevent further crimes against children,” she said.

To file a case against Greer, prosecutors would need to feel sure they have unquestionable proof of sexual assault — sufficient to meet the higher burden in criminal court to establish guilt.

Procedural differences from the recent trial will affect how easily the state can present their case to a jury. On one hand, law enforcement has more tools to obtain evidence. Greer, for example, refused to turn over credit card receipts for motel and hotel stays at his October 2016 deposition. A prosecutor could likely obtain those and other records.

On the other hand, Greer could choose to steer clear of the witness stand this time. His invocation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination could not be considered by jurors — unlike in the civil courtroom, where the panel could draw an adverse inference for every non-answer. At his recent trial Greer denied one specific allegation of having abused Mirlis, then repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than respond to years’ worth of other allegations.

The state’s attorney could go for first-degree sexual assault charges if there’s evidence Greer plied the boy with alcohol, as Mirlis claimed the rabbi did during the civil trial, to the point that the teen was “mentally incapacitated to the extent that [he was] unable to consent to such sexual intercourse.” If not, the state could pursue second-degree sexual assault charges, which the law clearly states apply to incidents when “the actor is a school employee and [the victim] is a student enrolled in a school in which the actor works.”

Mirlis’s lawyer, Antonio Ponvert, declined to comment on whether his client wanted the state to pursue criminal charges.
Jewish Organizations Weigh In

Torah Umesorah’s directory lists two schools associated with the Yeshiva of New Haven, out of 11 Orthodox Jewish schools statewide.
Weeks after the civil case concluded, prominent Jewish organizations — both in the Elm City and nationally — have struggled with how to respond. What responsibilities do these organizations have to the yeshiva’s current students or future applicants?In a statement, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven said its supports further investigation — with some reservations.

“It is not our role to call for a criminal investigation. However, should the authorities deem that an investigation is warranted, we would support it,” CEO Judy Alperin wrote in an email. She added that the organization “abhors the allegations made in this civil suit and would decry such allegations whether they occurred within the Jewish community or any other community.”

Torah Umesorah, an organization that supports Jewish education by providing in-person consultations to nearly 250 Orthodox schools in 90 cities, lists the Yeshiva of New Haven in an online directory of schools. Asked why Torah Umesorah is still advertising the school to students given the recent verdict, the group’s national director Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz said he would remove the yeshiva’s name from the site.

“The fact that it’s on the website, we’re not like the archdiocese. We just have a directory of schools. 

We have no real relationship,” Nojowitze said. “If you’re questioning whether we condone something, obviously not. If in fact he did what he did, lock him up and throw away the key.” He added, “If that school is still in existence, I would be very wary about having people attend.”

Nojowitz said he was unsure if the Torah Umesorah had provided any resources to the Yeshiva of New Haven.

 A representative from one of the organization’s seven Educational Resource Centers, which provide support to principals and educators in teaching the Torah, said no one would comment and hung up.

On Wednesday morning, the listing for the Yeshiva of New Haven was still up on Torah Umesorah’s site.

Beginning in the 1980s, Rabbi Greer oversaw the revival of the neighborhood around his yeshiva at the corner of Norton and Elm streets, renovating neglected historic homes.

Over the years, Greer has also crusaded against gay rights in Connecticut, at times played an active role in politics and government, and advocated for keeping nuisance businesses out of the Whalley Avenue commercial corridor. He and his family earned national attention for exposing johns who patronized street prostitutes in the neighborhood, for filing suit against Yale University over a requirement that students live in coed dorms, and then in 2007 for launching an armed neighborhood “defense” patrol and then calling in the Guardian Angels for assistance to combat crime. In the 1970s, Greer also led a successful campaign to force the United States to pressure the Soviet Union into allowing Jewish “refuseniks” to emigrate here and start new, freer lives.

On Monday night, around 7 p.m., as a mist wet the city streets, students gathered on the yeshiva’s second floor for their evening services. From the street, their voices blended, barely audible through an open window and a door to the fire escape left ajar. The sound of a dribbling basketball behind the compound’s gates hinted that one or two might’ve ditched, but the majority of the boys intoned their prayers upstairs.

At 9:10 p.m., a little over halfway through, Greer sat in a chair on the porch outside the student dorms. (He lives a half-mile away on West Park Avenue, according to state filings.) When a reporter walked by, Greer hobbled to the dorm’s front door and rang the bell. By the time the reporter circled the block, he was gone.

Previous coverage of this case:
Suit: Rabbi Molested, Raped Students
Greer’s Housing Corporations Added To Sex Abuse Lawsuit
2nd Ex-Student Accuses Rabbi Of Sex Assault
2nd Rabbi Accuser Details Alleged Abuse
Rabbi Sexual Abuse Jury Picked
On Stand, Greer Invokes 5th On Sex Abuse
Rabbi Seeks To Bar Blogger from Court
Trial Mines How Victims Process Trauma
Wife, Secretary Come To Rabbi Greer’s Defense
Jury Awards $20M In Rabbi Sex Case

Tags: , , , , ,

Share this story with others.