Rabbi pleads guilty to videotaping 52 women who took ritual baths
WASHINGTON — An orthodox rabbi in the nation’s capital pleaded guilty Thursday to secretly videotaping 52 women, mainly congregants at the temple he led, as they removed their clothing to step into a Jewish ritual bath.
Rabbi Bernard Freundel admitted to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism charges for invading the women’s privacy between March 4, 2012 and last Sept. 19. Prosecutors said in papers filed in Superior Court for the District of Columbia, however, that the evidence shows his behavior dates to 2009 and that he also surreptitiously recorded another 100 women who were undressed or partially clothed.
Voyeurism carries a three-year statute of limitations, so it was too late to prosecute him for most of the secret videotaping. Even though the charges are misdemeanors, Freundel faces a maximum sentence of 52 years in prison.
The disclosure of his activities last fall shocked the congregation at Kesher Israel, a temple in the city’s tony Georgetown neighborhood.
“Bernard Freundel exploited his position of power to victimize dozens of women who entered a sacred, intimate space of religious ritual,” said Ronald Machen Jr., U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. “He betrayed the trust of every woman whose private moments he caught on camera along with an entire community that counted on him for moral leadership.”
Kesher Israel sits next to the National Capital Mikvah, a ritual bath used mainly by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by other individuals to complete their conversion to Judaism. However, an individual associated with the Mikvah discovered last Oct. 12th that Freundel had placed a clock radio on the countertop of the sink in the larger of the mikvah’s two rooms for changing and showering, examined it and turned it over to District of Columbia police.
Freundel was arrested two days later. Law enforcement officer executed search warrants to examine the clock radio and to gather evidence at his home and office at Towson University in Maryland, discovering that he routinely videotaped women before or after they entered the mikvah. Computer forensic examinations of devices and digital media storage devices seized from his home and office enabled police to trace what appears to be the full extent of Freundel’s voyeurism.
“We hope that this guilty plea will allow each of his victims to move forward and heal,” Machen said. “We will be seeking a prison sentence that reflects the gravity of this disturbing assault on the privacy and dignity of so many victims.”
The city’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, referred to Freundel as a “predator” who “committed an outrageous breach of trust.”
“He must be punished for abusing his position to deliberately and repeatedly violate women’s privacy,” she said. “My heart goes out to the victims and all members of the community who have been deeply wounded by this criminal’s actions.”
Each count carries a maximum sentence of a year of incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000 for offenses prior to June 11, 2013 and fines of $2,500 for offenses after that date.