NYT: Police vs. Hynes in ’94 Brooklyn Kidnapping Case Against Helbrans

In 1994, William Plackenmeyer was a New York Police Department division commander in Borough Park, home to one of the city’s fastest growing ultra-Orthodox communities, and a key voting bloc for Mr. Hynes.

A few years earlier, a charismatic ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, had agreed to tutor an Israeli couple’s 13-year-old boy, Shai Fhima Reuven, in preparation for his bar mitzvah.

Instead, the rabbi kidnapped the boy and persuaded him to reject his family and embrace a zealous form of Hasidism. The police had the rabbi cornered. But the Brooklyn district attorney’s office did not want a confrontation; they argued that Shai was just a runaway.

“I listened to my detective’s account and I said, ‘No, no, this is a kidnapping,’ ” Mr. Plackenmeyer recalled. “Of course, this was Borough Park, so I’m talking lose-lose.”

By which Mr. Plackenmeyer meant that the local rabbis made splendid political bosses. Republican, Democrat, they can direct the votes of their adherents with striking ease.

Mr. Plackenmeyer ordered his men to make the arrest.

Two former law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed key aspects of Mr. Plackenmeyer’s account.

Within 24 hours of the arrest, the captain said, two assistant district attorneys paid him a visit. They were apologetically emphatic: Your case might be strong, they told him, but our boss, Mr. Hynes, wants you to void the arrest.

Are you saying, Mr. Plackenmeyer asked, that I don’t have probable cause?

We’re not saying that, they replied.

The prosecutors soon released the rabbi. Mr. Plackenmeyer and the boy’s mother, Hana Fhima, drove down to the district attorney’s office, seeking a meeting. They sat there for hours but never got past reception.

“I was a division commander,” he recalled. “I’m there with a woman willing to testify about this rabbi who kidnapped her son, and no one wants to speak to me.”

Soon enough, the F.B.I. took a look at it, along with federal prosecutors. They had a meeting, there was a fair amount of yelling, and, with help from federal officials, the district attorney felt the urge to prosecute.

That was not the end of it. In March 1994, Mr. Hynes’s office agreed to let Rabbi Helbrans plead guilty to kidnapping in exchange for five years of community service. Mrs. Fhima was furious, and complained bitterly to the judge of swinging-door justice.

A State Supreme Court justice, in an unusual move, agreed with her. He overturned the plea bargain. The family, he said, had given him the sense “that this is a political ploy, because Joe Hynes is running for” state attorney general, according to newspaper accounts.

06/05/2012 12:50 AM by JPUpdates Staff

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