His head bowed low and his cheeks a shade of crimson, Rabbi Barry Freundel was arraigned and pleaded guilty Feb. 19 to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Freundel’s attorney, Jeffrey Harris, said he expects no sentencing agreement will be reached before the scheduled May 15 sentencing hearing: “I don’t anticipate we will go in with any agreement.”
Through Harris, Freundel reserved the right to speak at that hearing.
That will provide him with the opportunity to address the court and for both sides to tell Senior Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin what they believe an appropriate sentence for Freundel should be.
“Theoretically,” Alprin said from the bench, Freundel could be sentenced to a maximum of 52 consecutive years of incarceration and ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines. There is no mandatory minimum sentence for misdemeanor voyeurism. Freundel also could be sentenced to probation, or house arrest, or a combination of both.
During the hour-long hearing, Freundel made no eye contact with more than a dozen victims who packed the second-floor courtroom. He appeared in a black fur hat, rumpled black suit, a black and gray tie and a black and gray kippah.
A pall of silence hung over the courtroom when Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Zubrensky said that, in addition to installing a camera in a clock radio he placed in the changing room of the National Capital Mikvah, Freundel set up mini-cameras in a tissue box and a table-top fan. Many of the videos were labeled with the victims’ names or initials.
Freundel drew a deep breath before answering the judge, who asked if the prosecution’s account of the facts was accurate.
“That is the truth,” Freundel said, with a sigh.
The case relied on evidence that included computers, hard drives and memory cards seized from Freundel’s Georgetown residence, Kesher Israel, and his office at Towson University, where he taught classes.
No new counts will be filed against Freundel now that he has pleaded guilty, prosecutors said. The arraignment brought the total number of counts to 52, and the plea included all of them.
During the hearing, prosecutors requested that Freundel be outfitted with an electronic ankle monitor until sentencing, calling him a flight risk. Alprin asked Freundel, “Are you going to make me look stupid and flee the jurisdiction prior to sentencing?”
In a loud voice, Freundel responded, “Absolutely not your honor.”
The judge, who will preside over Freundel’s sentencing hearing, took him at his word, calling him “Rabbi” Freundel, and released him on his own recognizance until his May sentencing.
The judge said he was satisfied that the sentencing, which is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on a Friday, will conclude before sundown for Shabbat.
During sentencing, the women who were surreptitiously recorded within the time period covered in this case will be permitted to deliver victim impact statements. Those who were videotaped beyond the statute of limitations can give what prosecutors called “relevant conduct statements.”
Standing outside the courthouse immediately after Freundel’s guilty plea, Jeffrey Shulevitz, husband of Emma Shulevitz, one of Freundel’s victims, said: “The rabbi was a brilliant man, and he used it to harm people instead of making the world a better place.”
Women who were secretly videotaped said they remained distraught.
“I continue to be profoundly shocked and upset by Rabbi Freundel’s outrageous conduct which violated the security, trust and belief of so many women. His sentencing must reflect the extent of his extreme conduct and the profound psychological and spiritual damage he has caused,” Stephanie Doucette said through her attorneys.
Kate Bailey, who was videotaped in 2009 and therefore beyond the statute of limitations, was pleased there will not be a trial and possible lengthy appeals. She called that possibility “a nightmare.”
However, she, like several other women, was “not really happy with what the [number] 52 represents.” During two meetings at Kesher Israel and Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue held shortly after Freundel’s arrest, Bailey said the women were told by police and prosecutors to submit their photographs if they believed they had been videotaped in the shower room of the National Capital Mikvah so police could try and match them up with the seized tapes. However, Bailey said, the women were told “it was for personal knowledge and absolutely” was not needed to prosecute the case.
She said she knows of several women who decided not to submit their photos, partly because they didn’t want to know for sure and partly because they wanted to move past the experience. Bailey now wonders if the women were told differently, would there have been many more than 52 counts.
She plans to submit a relevant impact statement to let the court and Freundel know how this has affected her. It’s hard to say how this will affect her down the road, she said. For now, sometimes she feels totally fine and other times she still can’t believe the whole ordeal.
Tzipporah LaFianza of Silver Spring studied with Freundel but did not complete her conversion, because of problems she had with Freundel. “He put me through the wringer,” she said, adding that she did her practice dunk – something Freundel requested of his conversion students – in a Silver Spring mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, so was not videotaped.
She called Freundel’s guilty plea “legal strategy” that has not helped her. “It’s not as if he’s come to us and said he was sorry.”
The possibility of civil lawsuits against Freundel is looming. David Haynes, managing attorney at the Cochran Firm in Washington, said, “Rabbi Freundel’s plea today in Superior Court is the first step in achieving justice for his victims.”
Following Freundel’s plea, Kesher Israel’s board of directors said in a prepared statement: “As we seek to move forward and heal as a community, we await the judge’s decision on sentencing. The scope and duration of these horrible crimes are still hard to completely comprehend.”
The statement continued, “Despite this great betrayal by Rabbi Freundel and our communal pain, we have seen a community that has come together and whose members have leaned on one another for support.”
Kesher Israel has been told Freundel will move out of his synagogue-owned residence “within two weeks,” said synagogue president Elanit Jakabovics.
“We are saddened to see a Torah scholar cause his own downfall,” the board of directors at The National Capital Mikvah, where Freundel videotaped the women, said in its statement. “We are also relieved and hopeful that this will mark the first step on the path to closure for the victims, for us, and for our community.”
Geoffrey W. Melada is editor-in-chief and Suzanne Pollak is senior writer at Washington Jewish Week.