An ultra-Orthodox Jewish counsellor has been sentenced by a New York court to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl who came to him for help.
Nechemya Weberman, who was convicted in December of sustained sexual abuse of a child, spent decades working with couples and families in his community, despite being unlicensed.
The girl, who is now 18, said she was abused between the ages of 12 and 15. She was sent to Weberman, 54, for counselling because she had been putting her faith into discussion and dressed "immodestly", in violation of the sect's customs.
Weberman told the court that he "never, ever" abused the girl and that she was simply upset with him for telling her parents that she had a boyfriend when she was 15 - forbidden in her community.
Many members of the closed Satmar Hasidic sect financed Weberman's defence fund and never believed he molested the young girl.
"He would never do such a thing, not near such a thing and it hurts me very much," Williamsburg resident Yuchezarun Roth told CBS.
But the victim's lawyer, Pearl Reich, said she is still recovering from Weberman's abuses.
"She is definitely going to need a lot of help. and this is the core therapy right now, the fact that he came out guilty and he's going with handcuffs," Reich said after the verdict.
The court heard that Weberman touched the girl's private parts, forced her to perform oral sex and to have sex with him when she was only 12.
According to a Daily News investigation, Weberman abused at least 10 others, including teens and married women. The counsellor even invoked Kabbalah to convince his victims that having sex with him was kosher. With one victim, he said he learned Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, and they were "a couple in another incarnation". "
"The intimate acts he was performing were intended [by the girls] as a form of repentance for sins committed in their previous lifetimes," Rabbi Yakov Horowitz told Daily News.
The victims refused to speak out for fear of retaliation. "He is probably the only male who has ever given them the time of day and listened to them," said a law enforcement source. "He had a huge amount of psychological hold over them."