Rabbi Pleads Guilty to Voyeurism Charges, Admits Secretly Taking Video Recordings of Dozens of Women
U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Colombia and Chief Cathy L. Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department announced that Bernard Freundel, a rabbi who had worked for a Jewish congregation in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty today to 52 counts of voyeurism stemming from a series of incidents between 2009 and 2014 in which he secretly took video recordings of women preparing for a Jewish ritual bath.
Freundel, 63, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges before the honorable Senior Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin in the superior court of the District of Columbia. Each count carries a maximum sentence of a year of incarceration, a fine of up to $1,000 or $2,500, for the offenses which occurred on or after June 11, 2013, or both. Freundel faces a maximum of 52 years in prison and the potential fines when he is sentenced on May 15, 2015.
“Bernard Freundel exploited his position of power to victimize dozens of women who entered a sacred, intimate space of religious ritual,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “He betrayed the trust of every woman whose private moments he caught on camera along with an entire community that counted on him for moral leadership. We hope that this guilty plea will allow each of his victims to move forward and heal. We will be seeking a prison sentence that reflects the gravity of this disturbing assault on the privacy and dignity of so many victims.”
“This predator committed an outrageous breach of trust,” said Chief Lanier. “He must be punished for abusing his position to deliberately and repeatedly violate women’s privacy. My heart goes out to the victims and all members of the community who have been deeply wounded by this criminal’s actions.”
According to a factual proffer submitted at today’s plea hearing, between early 2009 and October 2014, Freundel was the sole Rabbi of Kesher Israel congregation in Northwest Washington. Kesher Israel is adjacent to the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. A mikvah is used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by other individuals as the final step in the Orthodox Jewish conversion process.
The National Capital Mikvah has two changing/showering rooms connected to the room with the ritual bath. On numerous occasions between early 2009 and October 2014, the defendant installed and maintained electronic recording devices in the larger of the two changing/showering rooms. Freundel did so for the sole purpose of secretly and surreptitiously recording women who were using the bathroom and shower; these women were totally and partially undressed before and/or after showering. The women recorded did not know they were being recorded and did not consent to being recorded.
On Oct. 12, 2014, Freundel entered the larger changing/showering room with a clock radio that contained a hidden recording device. He placed the clock radio on the countertop of the sink and positioned the recording element so that it faced the shower area. He then left the changing area. Shortly thereafter, the clock radio was taken by an individual associated with the Mikvah, who immediately turned it over to the Metropolitan Police Department, leading to an investigation.
Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14, 2014. Law enforcement executed search warrants to examine the contents of the clock radio and to seek evidence at Freundel’s home and office at Towson University. Computer forensic examinations of all of the electronic devices and digital media storage devices seized from the defendant’s home and office revealed recordings made by the defendant of at least 52 women who were totally or partially undressed in the large showering/changing room of the Mikvah on a total of 25 different dates between March 4, 2012 and Sept. 19, 2014. These are the women who are the subjects of the charges to which Freundel pled guilty today. The charge of voyeurism has a three-year statute of limitations.
In addition to the 52 recordings that were the subject of the plea, computer forensic examinations revealed that Freundel secretly and surreptitiously recorded approximately 100 additional women totally or partially undressed before and/or after showering in the large bathroom at the National Capital Mikvah between 2009 and September 2014. These women did not know that they were being recorded and did not consent to being recorded.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen and Chief Lanier commended the work of those who investigated the case for the Metropolitan Police Department, including officers and detectives of the second police district. They also recognized the assistance provided by the Towson University Police Department. In addition, they acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office including Chief Jelahn Stewart of the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit, Deputy Chief Sharon Marcus-Kurn of the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section, Lead Paralegal Specialist Wanda Trice, Victim/Witness Advocate Lezlie Richardson, Victim/Witness Advocate Supervisor Dr. Lorraine Chase and Criminal Investigator John Marsh.
Finally they expressed appreciation for the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amy H. Zubrensky and Rebekah Holman, who investigated and prosecuted the case.