WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent Orthodox rabbi acknowledged Thursday that for years he videotaped women in a changing room of a Jewish ritual bath, ultimately recording approximately 150 nude women.
Barry Freundel pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism during a hearing at D.C. Superior Court. Each count is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Freundel’s attorney, Jeffrey Harris, acknowledged after the hearing that it was unlikely that his client would get a 52-year sentence but declined to say what sentence he would seek at a hearing set for May 15. Harris said his client was taking responsibility for his actions and was looking to move on with his life.
Harris could ask for a sentence that would keep his client out of prison, but U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a statement that prosecutors would seek a sentence that includes prison time.
“We will be seeking a prison sentence that reflects the gravity of this disturbing assault on the privacy and dignity of so many victims,” Machen said in a statement.
Freundel, 63, was a rabbi at the Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington for more than 25 years before his arrest in October on voyeurism charges. As part of the plea agreement Freundel entered into Thursday, he acknowledged that starting in 2009 he set up hidden recording devices in a changing and showering area of The National Capital Mikvah, a ritual cleansing bath affiliated with Kesher Israel. He acknowledged he secretly videotaped women who were partially or totally undressed before or after they showered.
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Police arrested Freundel on Oct. 14 after a person associated with the mikvah discovered a camera hidden in a digital clock radio and brought it to police. Freundel acknowledged as part of the plea agreement that he also had recording devices hidden in a fan and tissue box holder and “utilized up to three recording devices at the same time to obtain different angles of each woman being recorded.”
Freundel was initially charged with six counts of voyeurism as a result of video files found on the recording device in the clock radio. A search of his home and office at Towson University in Maryland, where he taught, turned up other media storage devices, and prosecutors indicated early on in the case that more women had been taped.
Freundel acknowledged Thursday that he had secretly recorded approximately 150 women. A statute of limitations, however, would have barred prosecutors from charging him for every recording.
Freundel was fired from the synagogue about a month and a half after his arrest. In a statement Thursday, the Kesher Israel board of directors called Freundel’s actions a “great betrayal” and said the synagogue hoped that the “resolution of the criminal proceedings will help our collective and individual healing continue.”
Jeffrey Shulevitz, whose wife was among Freundel’s victims, said after the hearing that he thought three years might be a fair sentence.
“He already lost everything that he had. He lost his power. No one respects him anymore,” Shulevitz said.
Steve Kelly, a lawyer representing some of the victims, including Shulevitz’s wife, said he believed many of the victims will be gratified the case will not go to trial and they won’t have “to face the prospect of having their videos shown in open court.”
David Haynes, an attorney who represents several other victims, said in a statement that the plea was a “first step in achieving justice” for Freundel’s victims.
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