Brooklyn Deserves a New D.A.

Why the 23-year reign of Charles Hynes must end

Bell and Adams have now been schlepping in and out of court for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the indictments have sent a chilling effect through the system, say current and former caseworkers. "The overwhelming feeling is that no matter what you do, no matter how many times you visit, it's not good enough," a caseworker tells the Voice.

According to the Brooklyn pol, the Bell case is "perceived as law-enforcement overreach in order to chase headlines in a case that caught the country's attention. These two individuals should have been disciplined, but prosecuting them to the full extent of the law seems excessive and unlikely to occur outside the glare of the media spotlight. If that is the standard, then you can do that to judges, who release suspects on bail who then go out and commit a heinous crime."

But the Bell case is not the first time Hynes has been accused of using his office for political gain. He pursued charges against a campaign foe, John O'Hara, on the ground that he didn't live in the borough. He indicted his former patron, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman, not once but four times, after public opinion turned against him.

The Kingpin: Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes assumes the position during a December press conference. In his sixth term, he has become mired in controversy.
Caleb Ferguson
The Kingpin: Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes assumes the position during a December press conference. In his sixth term, he has become mired in controversy.
Hynes was excoriated by a federal judge for protecting prosecutor Michael Vecchione in the midst of misconduct allegations.
Courtesy CNBC
Hynes was excoriated by a federal judge for protecting prosecutor Michael Vecchione in the midst of misconduct allegations.

"What we have right now is not a D.A., but a politician," says George, one of Hynes's opponents in the coming re-election campaign.

That accusation seems to dog Hynes's decisions. In a borough full of brown people, for example, he has acquired a reputation for being particularly solicitous of white ones, especially in the ultra-Orthodox communities that have given him tremendous support.

Back in 2002, Hynes agreed to a lenient plea deal for Isaac Chehebar, son of a prominent family of merchants and a member of the Sephardic Bikur Holim synagogue. Chehebar was accused of vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide after killing two sisters and seriously injuring their mother while out joyriding in a friend's Porsche. Hynes, who had earlier won a second-degree murder conviction in a similar case—thundering that he was sending "a clear message to these high-octane terrorists on the Belt Parkway and everywhere in Brooklyn"—offered Chehebar a deal allowing him to serve just four months in jail and two years of house arrest. Subsequently, some $80,000 in contributions from Chehebar's family, associates, and congregants ended up in Hynes campaign coffers. His 2005 campaign opponents suggested there was some kind of deal, which Hynes denied, but clearly he has a great deal of financial support in the community.

Those political ties have also been cited to explain Hynes's handling of sex abuse among the Hasidim. In a 2008 editorial, The Jewish Week described Hynes's attitude toward such cases as "ranging from passive to weak-willed." In May, The New York Times published an analysis of Hynes's performance, suggesting that his efforts to rein in ultra-Orthodox sexual predators have been reactive at best and in many cases altogether reluctant. Hynes famously agreed, for instance, to rabbis' requests to let them handle the cases internally and has repeatedly declined to make public the names of the accused—even after they were convicted. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Times reported that in his razor-thin 2005 victory over John Sampson, he won by a landslide in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

Hynes rejects any suggestion that he has buckled to ultra-Orthodox rabbis in exchange for political support. He cites cases made by a special unit he created, Kol Tzedek ("Voice of Justice" in Hebrew). And he recently won a conviction against Nechemya Weberman, a Yeshiva counselor accused of sexually abusing an Orthodox teen. After winning the Weberman conviction, Hynes told reporters that once and for all, the "veil of secrecy" had been lifted.

Hynes counts the Weberman case, and a second conviction—against Emanuel Yegutkin, a principal of a private Jewish school in Brooklyn—as significant victories. "Those cases support our position on how we've been handling this issue," says his spokesman, Schmetterer. Fidler likewise insists he's "astonished that Hynes is taking criticism" for handling of Orthodox Jewish cases. "He has taken one of the most difficult nuts to crack in today's society and has done his best to crack it. He deserves tremendous credit."

But Kol Tzedek wasn't formed until 2009, in the face of strident public criticism. The Times analysis concluded that "some of Mr. Hynes's claims about the Kol Tzedek program appear to be inflated."

On August 26, 2011, a supermarket worker named Ahmed Awardeh came out of a Flatbush Avenue bank carrying a pouch containing $9,000; as he walked toward an SUV carrying his boss, a man pushed him into the car at gunpoint and a second jumped into the back seat. The gunman struck Awardeh repeatedly, grabbed the pouch, and forced the worker to walk down the block before letting him go.

Ronald Bozeman, a 64-year-old ex-con, was arrested for armed robbery in December, after police discovered his DNA profile on a white cloth inside a bag left behind by one of the robbers. As a convicted felon, he faced life in prison.

Five days after Bozeman's arrest, Lauren Silver, an assistant district attorney in Hynes's office, took the case to a grand jury, where both Awardeh and his boss identified Bozeman as the gunman. The grand jury voted to indict Bozeman.

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