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Brooklyn religious counselor convicted of sexual abuse

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By COLLEEN LONG | AP

NEW YORK (AP) — A religious counselor in New York's ultra-orthodox Jewish community was convicted Monday of the sustained sexual abuse of a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.

The courtroom was silent as Nechemya Weberman was convicted of 59 counts, including sustained sex abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and other counts. He faces 25 years in prison on the top charge and two to seven years on the lesser charges.

The 54-year-old defendant and his relatives stared down at the ground as the verdict was pronounced. Some of the accusers' supporters smiled quietly.

The accuser, now 18, told authorities Weberman abused her repeatedly from the time she was 12 until she was 15.

Defense lawyers said the jurors, who deliberated about half a day, did not properly grasp the complicated issues.

"We firmly believe that the jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts," said attorney George Farkas. "As a result, the truth did not come out and the struggle continues in full force to free this innocent man."

The case was a crash course for jurors about the customs and rules in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, home to about 250,000, the largest community outside Israel. It spotlighted the strict rules that govern the Satmar Hasidic sect.

Weberman is not a licensed counselor, but worked with families within his community for decades. The girl was sent to him because she had been questioning her faith, was dressing immodestly and showing an interest in boys, all violations of the sect's rules.

Prosecutors say Weberman molested the girl for years behind a locked office door. Defense attorneys argued the counselor was the victim of a vindictive child who was angry that he had betrayed her trust when he went to her parents after learning she had a boyfriend.

"When she found out that she had been betrayed, she went wild," defense attorney Stacey Richman said.

The trial has rocked the insular, tight-knit group, not only because of the shocking charges but also because the case was played out in a public court. The guarded society strongly discourages going to outside authorities.

The victim testified that she and her family were harassed and shunned for coming forward; her father lost his business and her nieces were kicked out of school.

During the trial, which began last week, three men were charged with criminal contempt for snapping images of the accuser on the witness stand with cellphone cameras and posting them online. And before the trial began, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes charged other men with trying to bribe the accuser to drop the charges.

The teen testified for three days about the abuse, detailing that Weberman forced her to perform oral sex and act out porn films. She said the abuse lasted from 2007 to 2010. Her family paid him $12,800 in counseling fees during that time, the victim's mother testified Monday.

"I wanted to die rather than live with myself," the accuser testified. "I didn't know how to fight. I was numb."

The Associated Press generally doesn't identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.

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