Rabbi Barry Freundel was sentenced this afternoon to 6.5 years in prison for his gross violation of trust and abuse of power, D.C. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin ruled.
Freundel, formerly of Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., received a sentence of 45 days each for 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism. The sentences are to run consecutively.
Freundel, who pleaded guilty to surreptitiously recording women as they undressed at the National Capitol Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath next to the synagogue, asked for three months to get his affairs in order, but Alprin, showing irritation, denied that, saying he had plenty of time to do that prior to sentencing. He was then surrounded by marshals and taken directly from the courthouse.
There is no parole in the federal system. It was abolished years ago. With credit for “good behavior,” Rabbi Freundel can have a 15% reduction in his sentence. But no more. Judge Alprin was accurately stating the law when, during the hearing, he told the victims that Freundel was not eligible for parole.
The United States Attorneys Office, District of Columbia, issued a press release immediately following the sentencing:
Freundel, a rabbi who had worked for a Jewish congregation in Washington, D.C., was sentenced today to a prison term of six years and six months on 52 counts of voyeurism stemming from a series of incidents between 2009 and 2014 in which he secretly took video recordings of women preparing for a Jewish ritual bath.
The sentence was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen, Jr. and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
Freundel, 63, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty in February 2015 to the misdemeanor charges before the Honorable Senior Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The sentencing came at the end of a three-hour hearing in which more than a dozen women told the Court of the emotional impact they continue to endure because of Freundel’s abuse of his position of trust. Judge Alprin sentenced Freundel to 45 days in prison for each of the 52 victims, calling his actions “a classic abuse of power and violation of trust.”
Freundel, who had been free on personal recognizance, was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his sentence “Today the Court heard the heart-wrenching accounts of the victims of Barry Freundel’s exploitation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen. “Their stories make clear the lasting scars that will be left by this outrageous abuse of power. This prosecution was an effort to restore the dignity that Barry Freundel tried to steal from these women. We hope that the scores of victims of his crimes will find some solace in the justice meted out by the court today.”
“It is my hope that the many victims in this case draw a small measure of relief from the sentencing action today,’ said Chief Lanier. “His actions wounded an entire religious community, and showed a flagrant disregard for his position of trust within that community. I am confident that today’s action by the courts will serve to continue the healing process for the many unwitting victims of this predator.”
According to a factual proffer submitted at the earlier plea hearing, between early 2009 and October 2014, Freundel was the sole Rabbi of Kesher Israel congregation in Northwest Washington. Kesher Israel is adjacent to the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. A mikvah is used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by other individuals as the final step in the Orthodox Jewish conversion process.
The National Capital Mikvah has two changing/showering rooms connected to the room with the ritual bath. On numerous occasions between early 2009 and October 2014, the defendant installed and maintained electronic recording devices in the larger of the two changing/showering rooms. Freundel did so for the sole purpose of secretly and surreptitiously recording women who were using the bathroom and shower; these women were totally and partially undressed before and/or after showering. The women recorded did not know they were being recorded and did not consent to being recorded.
On Oct. 12, 2014, Freundel entered the larger changing/showering room with a clock radio that contained a hidden recording device. He placed the clock radio on the countertop of the sink and positioned the recording element so that it faced the shower area. He then left the changing area. Shortly thereafter, the clock radio was taken by an individual associated with the Mikvah, who immediately turned it over to the MPD, leading to an investigation.
Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14, 2014. Law enforcement executed search warrants to examine the contents of the clock radio and to seek evidence at Freundel’s home and office at Towson University. Computer forensic examinations of all of the electronic devices and digital media storage devices seized from the defendant’s home and office revealed recordings made by the defendant of at least 52 women who were totally or partially undressed in the large showering/changing room of the Mikvah on a total of 25 different dates between March 4, 2012 and Sept. 19, 2014. These are the women who are the subjects of the charges to which Freundel pled guilty today. The charge of voyeurism has a three-year statute of limitations.
In addition to the 52 recordings that were the subject of the plea, computer forensic examinations revealed that Freundel secretly and surreptitiously recorded approximately 100 additional women totally or partially undressed before and/or after showering in the large bathroom at the National Capital Mikvah between 2009 and September 2014. These women did not know that they were being recorded and did not consent to being recorded.
In announcing the sentence, Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen and Chief Lanier commended the work of those who investigated the case for the Metropolitan Police Department, including officers and detectives of the Second Police District. They also recognized the assistance provided by the Towson University Police Department. In addition, they acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Jelahn Stewart, Chief of the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit; Sharon Marcus-Kurn, Deputy Chief of the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section; Lead Paralegal Specialist Wanda Trice; Victim/Witness Advocate Lezlie Richardson; Victim/Witness Advocate Supervisor Dr. Lorraine Chase; and Criminal Investigator John Marsh.
Shortly after the sentence was handed down, Kesher Israel issued a statement:
“While we are still in the process of healing and understanding the incomprehensible, today’s decision turns a page in this dark chapter for our community. Kesher remains grateful for the diligent work of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the team at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in handling this matter. We deeply appreciate their dedication, sensitivity, professionalism and for all of the assistance they provided Kesher and the individual victims over the last seven months.
“Despite our pain, our community is moving forward. As we prepare to light Shabbat candles, we will continue to heal and grow stronger together. We are committed to ensuring that Kesher Israel remains a warm, welcoming, and safe place to gather, worship, and learn. Our brightest days are ahead of us.”
The board of the National Capital Mikvah also had a statement:
“For the National Capital Mikvah community, today has been a day full of emotion. For some it has been a day of closure, for others it has been a day where deep wounds have been reopened. The courage shown in the courtroom today by impacted victims and community members was overwhelming. The Mikvah Board deeply appreciates our outgoing President, Adela Renna, who sheparded us through this ordeal and who exhibited tremendous strength and grace by reading the National Capital Mikvah’s community impact statement in court today.
“Our hearts go out to those in pain. We continue to do all we can as individuals and a community to offer assistance and support.
“Over the past eight months, our doors have remained open. Our community is strong. We have endured and we will continue not only to endure but to flourish. Our mikvah is dedicated to continuing to serve the needs of our community on a daily basis.”
“We wish to thank the prosecutors in this case and the DC police who have guided us and provided information and extraordinary support to many throughout this ordeal.
“Today we heard stories of the deepest pain. Tonight, as we bring in Shabbat, we pray for healing while at the same time celebrating our community’s resilience and strength.”
Jeffrey Harris, Freundel’s attorney, speaking to WJW on the courthouse steps immediately after the sentencing, vowed to appeal the sentence.