Washington rabbi pleads guilty to voyeurism charges
WASHINGTON, Feb 19(Reuters) – A prominent Washington rabbi charged with secretly videotaping dozens of women during ritual baths pleaded guilty to 52 misdemeanor counts of voyeurism on Thursday.
Rabbi Barry Freundel, 63, was accused of installing video cameras to spy on women in the bathing area for his Orthodox synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation, in Washington’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood.
“Guilty,” Freundel, a bearded figure wearing glasses and a yarmulke, said when asked how he pleaded by District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin.
Prosecutors said Freundel recorded the women between early 2009 and October 2014 using devices installed in two changing rooms for the National Capital Mikvah, which is next to the Kesher synagogue.
The mikvah, or ritual bath, is used most frequently as purification by people converting to Judaism and by Jewish women seven days after the end of their menstrual cycle.
Police began investigating Freundel, who headed the synagogue for 25 years, when a woman found a camera in a clock radio in the bathing area and turned it over to officers.
Investigators found six video files of nude women, with one showing Freundel’s face as he set up the camera, prosecutors said.
Police searched his home and his office at Maryland’s Towson University, where he was an associate professor, and seized computers, electronic devices, remote controls, hard drives and cameras hidden in a fan and a tissue box, they said.
Prosecutors said at least 52 women were recorded nude or partially nude on 25 different dates from March 2012 to September 2014. Voyeurism carries a three-year statute of limitations.
Investigators also found that Freundel secretly recorded about 100 more women between 2009 and September 2014 in a bathroom at the National Capital Mikvah, they said.
Each of the 52 counts of voyeurism carries a penalty of a year in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000, or $2,500 for those committed after June 2013.
One of the victims, Stephanie Doucette, said in a statement: “I continue to be profoundly shocked and upset by Rabbi Freundel’s outrageous conduct, which violated the security, trust and beliefs of so many women.”
Freundel, who also is facing civil lawsuits, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 15.
Kesher Israel fired Freundel in December. His congregation has included Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech)