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Beloved Boca rabbi accused of soliciting minors online
Went by the screen name ‘CoachBoca’ and promised to ease troubled minds
By KEVIN KRAUSE
and NICOLE STERGHOS BROCHU Staff Writers
April 7, 2001
He described himself as a “hairy teddy bear” with a “great smile,” listing his hobbies as online chats, sports and “lending younger dudes a hand.”
His America Online quote: “Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.”
With that depiction and a screen name of “CoachBoca,” detectives say the 58-year-old man lured one intended conquest with graphic conversation and promises of sexual satisfaction.
What he caught, police said, was an irate father who tipped off authorities and sent tremors of disbelief through the Reform Jewish community by ensnaring a well-known Boca Raton rabbi. A beloved assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Jerrold M. Levy is charged with soliciting sex from a minor online, a third-degree felony that could put him in prison for up to five years.
As word of Thursday’s arrest spread throughout Temple Beth El, one of the largest Reform Jewish synagogues in the Southeast, there were gasps and crying. But few members could fathom that a man widely regarded as bright, jolly, compassionate and spiritual had been charged with such a crime.
Not even those who had heard about Levy’s arrest on a sex charge once before — in St. Louis in 1984.
“We knew about it but thought the whole matter was false … because he was a strong spiritual leader and that was beyond belief,” said Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs, executive vice president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association. “He had a very large following. "Levy served as rabbi in St. Louis and Coral Springs before settling at Temple Beth El in 1992. Detectives said he seemed stunned when deputies arrested him Thursday on a bench in front of the Palm Beach Community College library.
At the detective’s bureau Thursday night, Levy suffered chest pains before being booked into jail and was taken to Columbia Hospital. He remained there Friday under guard and was listed in stable condition.
He is expected to make his first court appearance this morning.
Levy’s attorney, prominent Miami criminal defense lawyer Edward Shohat, said his client is innocent.
“From a bit of conversation with the detective, we intend to vigorously defend this and plead not guilty,” he said.
At temple services Friday night, Rabbi Merle Singer urged members not to judge the accusations or succumb to rumors.
“We hurt deeply by these revelations,” he said. “His pain is our pain.”
The synagogue will hold a closed-door meeting Tuesday night to determine how families should discuss Levy’s situation with their children.
Investigators said Levy was in front of the college library on Thursday to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old surfer from Lake Worth. Instead, it was a sting by investigators who were tipped off by a concerned father who had tracked Levy to the sexually explicit e-mails sent to his teenage son under the America Online screen name “CoachBoca.”
Incensed that an older man could try to prey on his child but not immediately aware of the writer’s identity, the father stopped his wife from writing an e-mail telling the man to stop.
“I told her to delete the e-mail because I wanted to get him,” said the father, whom the Sun-Sentinel is not identifying because of the nature of the crime.
He then crafted his own screen name and profile, posing as a 16-year-old surfer named Jimmy.
The father soon struck up an e-mail chat with “CoachBoca,” whose profile described him as a high school teacher, counselor and baseball and swim coach named Joshua.
According to an arrest affidavit, the “surfer’s” chats with “CoachBoca” soon turned to sex. The coach signed off one of their sessions with: ” LICKS wherever you want em.”
They soon set up a time to meet, choosing the Steak-N-Shake restaurant near the Boynton Beach Mall on March 11.
The father and mother both staked out the fast-food eatery, watching as an older man came out of the bushes, across the street and inside, according to the affidavit. When he exited a few minutes later with no food, they wrote down the tag number on his Toyota.
The next day, investigators say “CoachBoca” sent the surfer three adult porn images. The “coach” eventually asked why he had been stood up.
“I was horny all day,” the “coach” wrote. “This was supposed to be our big moment.”
By that time, the father had alerted sheriff’s officials, and Detective Patrick L. Paige had taken over posing as the teen surfer.
The detective, though, said in the affidavit that he gave the older man a chance to back away, telling him he was really 14, not 16 as he had previously indicated.
The “coach” didn’t seem to mind, Paige wrote in the arrest affidavit. In his e-mail, the older man envisioned ringing the boy’s doorbell and meeting his mom, saying, “Hello, you must be Jim’s mom. I am Coach Josh, and I have come over to give your son a private class in sex education.”
Another rendezvous was established between the “coach” and his young correspondent, this time at the college library. Detectives say Levy drove up in a Toyota with the same license plate noted by the concerned parents at the Steak-N-Shake.
Investigators later learned the AOL screen name “CoachBoca” was registered to Ruth Levy, the rabbi’s wife.
Jerrold Levy has no criminal record. But Missouri authorities say he was charged in 1984 with a misdemeanor count of third-degree sexual abuse for making an advance on an undercover police officer in a men’s park restroom.
Capt. Kevin Murphy of the Clayton Police Department in St. Louis County said he vividly recalls the incident because Levy was a rabbi at a temple with one of the largest congregations in the area.
Levy pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, said Murphy, the arresting undercover officer. Because he was a first-time offender, the record of his arrest was expunged after he served his sentence, Murphy said.
Levy, then an instructor of religious studies at St. Louis University, was accused of indecently touching Murphy in the restroom, according to published reports.
Murphy said he remembered that Levy hired one of the top criminal defense attorneys and then moved to Florida not long after.
Levy, then a rabbi for 10 years at B’nai El Congregation in Frontenac, accepted a position as rabbi of Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs the same month he was arrested.
It is unclear whether the St. Louis charge was ever investigated by the rabbinical community and whether the recent arrest would affect his career.
Levy is an active member in good standing with the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a professional organization representing the nation’s 1,800 Reform rabbis, said Rabbi Elliot Stevens.
The group has the power to review ethical breaches and to suspend, censure or expel a rabbi. Its standards require members “to be scrupulous in avoiding even the appearance of sexual misconduct, whether by taking advantage of our position with those weaker than ourselves or dependent upon us, or succumbing to the temptations of willing adults.”
Detectives have seized Levy’s home computer and will search its hard drive for evidence, a process that could take weeks.
No matter what happens next, Levy can count on his supporters.
“I think most people feel the same way we do, that they support him,” said Alan Slootsky, Levy’s dentist and a Temple Beth El member. “This is how special this man is.”
Staff Writers Stella Chavez, Leon Fooksman, Nancy Othon and Jim Davis and Staff Researchers Kathryn Pease, Patti Parker and Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
Kevin Krause can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6603.
Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Rabbi asserts innocence in case
By Nancy L. Othon
April 7, 2001, 10:07 PM EDT
Looking tired and disheveled upon being released from the Palm Beach County Jail on Saturday, a Boca Raton rabbi accused of trying to entice a teen sexually through an Internet chat room said he is certain his name will be cleared.
Associate Rabbi Jerrold Levy of Temple Beth El made his first public comment since his arrest Thursday as he walked out of the jail early Saturday afternoon.
“I’m confident that the truth will come out and I will be exonerated,” Levy said, almost inaudibly. “At this point, my attorney has advised me not to say anymore.”
Levy was transferred from Columbia Hospital on Saturday morning to the Palm Beach County Jail, where he made his first appearance in court and was released on $10,000 bail.
Levy, who is well-known to hundreds of local residents as a rabbi at one of the largest Reform Jewish synagogues in the Southeast United States, had spent two nights at the hospital with chest pains shortly after his arrest.
Investigators say Levy, 58, arranged a meeting on Thursday at Palm Beach Community College with a teenager after sending sexually explicit messages to him over the Internet. The teenager who agreed to the meeting actually was an undercover agent with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office computer crimes unit.
According to his arrest affidavit, Levy was communicating online with a 16-year-old from the Lake Worth area. The teen’s father found out, then posed as a teenager and contacted “CoachBoca,” which investigators say was Levy’s screen name.
The Lake Worth area father said Friday that his wife initially wanted to send “CoachBoca” a message warning the man against contacting the teen again. But because he said he feared “CoachBoca” would simply move on to soliciting other children, he took action himself.
After receiving what he said were sexually graphic messages, he reported the incident to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Nearly a month later, Levy has been charged with online solicitation of a juvenile, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Sheriff’s detectives searched Levy’s West Boca home with a warrant on Thursday and seized his computer, said Sgt. Mike Reardon, who heads the department’s computer crimes unit.
Detectives will begin searching the computer’s hard drive for evidence. The process could take several weeks, he said.
The sheriff’s computer crimes unit was formed in 1996 in response to an explosion in cyber crime. It is staffed with two detectives, a data-recovery technician and a supervisor.
Computer crimes include forgery cases, credit card fraud and auction scams, Reardon said. Sex crime is only one area, he said, but it is growing.
Levy was arrested once before in St. Louis in 1984, when he was charged with a misdemeanor count of third-degree sexual abuse for making an advance on an undercover police officer in a men’s park restroom.
He pleaded guilty and his record was expunged after he served his sentence of probation because he was a first-time offender.
Levy’s arraignment in this case is set for May 7. He is represented by Edward Shohat, a prominent Miami criminal defense lawyer.
Levy already has received the support of several members at Temple Beth El who have said they hold him in high regard.
“He’s a wonderful rabbi,” said Michael Gelfand, a member of the synagogue, after learning of his arrest. “He’s been a rabbi at the temple for 10 years, and I have no qualms with him teaching my child.”
Gelfand said Levy is a “man who is known for standing up and doing the right thing.”
“I know that I have a lot of faith in Rabbi Levy,” he said. “I hope that everyone takes a breath before rushing to judgment.”
Staff Writers Kevin Krause and Scott Travis contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Rabbi told synagogue about ’84 sex arrest
By BRAD HAHN
April 9, 2001
Jerrold Levy mentioned a prior arrest when interviewing in 1992 for associate rabbi at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, the synagogue’s attorney said on Sunday.
Levy disclosed that he had pleaded no contest and said there was no record of a 1984 sex-related case involving an undercover police officer in a St. Louis-area public restroom, attorney Stuart Grossman said. He did not know what other details Levy offered about the case.
Temple leaders decided to give Levy the job anyway, based on his record as a rabbi, lawyer and member of their synagogue community, Grossman said.
“He came to us without any criminal record,” Grossman said. “Plus he’s put in eight more years with the temple flawlessly, so it’s very difficult to look back at this with any degree of sadness insofar as the background check.”
Levy, 58, was released Saturday from the Palm Beach County Jail after posting $10,000 bail on a charge of online solicitation of a juvenile. Levy is accused of arranging a meeting Thursday at Palm Beach Community College with a teenager after sending him sexually explicit e-mail messages using the computer name “CoachBoca,” sheriff’s investigators said. The “teenager” actually was an undercover sheriff’s deputy.
Even with Levy facing a new charge, Grossman said there was nothing temple leaders could have done differently in 1992.
It was Levy himself who brought up the Missouri case while meeting with temple leaders, Grossman said. Levy’s glowing resume far outweighed a charge that didn’t produce a permanent police record, and his rabbinical history was clean, Grossman said.
Ordained in 1969, Levy had served congregations in New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Coral Springs. In 1987, he got a Florida law license, which meant passing a detailed background check.
And more than anything, Grossman said Levy had proven himself a devoted member in his years at Temple Beth El.
Although he could not say Sunday whether the temple did a criminal background check of its own, Grossman said nothing would have surfaced either way — and nothing has happened since then to cause concern.
“His performance has been exemplary on the job,” Grossman said.
In 1984, Levy was charged with third-degree misdemeanor sexual abuse after he reportedly made a sexual advance on an undercover police officer in a park restroom. Levy’s record was expunged after he completed probation, said Capt. Kevin Murphy of the Clayton, Mo., Police Department.
Murphy said he recalled getting an inquiry about Levy from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners in 1987.
Levy moved to South Florida shortly after the Missouri incident and in 1986 joined Temple Beth El, one of the largest Reform Jewish synagogues in the Southeast United States.
Rather than second-guess its hiring process, Temple Beth El is trying to respond quickly and appropriately, Grossman said.
The temple this weekend interviewed its staff and administration — about 50 people — looking for any relevant information about Levy but learned nothing, Grossman said.
Letters will be sent this week to the synagogue’s 2,000 families telling them that psychologists are available for counseling. That was done simply because rabbis are involved in many aspects of temple members’ emotional and spiritual lives, and some people may have trouble coping with the accusation, Grossman added.
Temple Beth El’s board of directors will meet this week to discuss other possible responses, he added. The meeting was delayed because some members are out of town for Passover.
“We’re just muddling through this, but doing it quickly,” said Grossman, adding that the temple gets most of its information from the media. “We’re concerned, … and we will treat this responsibly.”
Levy is on leave from his rabbi position, he added.
“There’s disbelief based upon your thinking that you know someone so well and his conduct in the past eight years [has been flawless],” Grossman said.
A court hearing is scheduled for May 7.
Staff Writer Kevin Krause contributed to this report.
Brad Hahn can be reached at [email protected] or 561-832-2905.
Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Boca rabbi resigns from temple following solicitation arrest
By KEVIN KRAUSE
April 10, 2001
Jerrold Levy resigned on Monday as associate rabbi of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, four days after his arrest on a charge of online solicitation of a juvenile.
The board of directors unanimously accepted his resignation, said temple attorney Stuart Grossman.
“He thanked everyone in the congregation for their support,” Grossman said. “The feeling is that he’s going to fight this.”
Levy, 58, is free on $10,000 bail. He is accused of sending sexually explicit computer messages to a teenager and arranging a meeting on Thursday at Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth with an undercover sheriff’s deputy posing as the boy, authorities said.
Temple officials have acknowledged knowing about a 1984 Missouri case in which Levy was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse for inappropriately touching an undercover police officer in a men’s park restroom.
Levy told them he pleaded no contest to the charge, but was hired anyway by Temple Beth El. Levy’s arrest record was expunged after he completed probation.
A meeting for temple members with children in the Early Childhood and Religious School Program is scheduled for 7:30 tonight at the synagogue.
The closed-door meeting, intended to give parents advice on discussing the situation with their kids, will feature a panel discussion with a psychologist, the head rabbi and officials from the Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service.
Most officials at the Coral Springs temple where Levy previously served as rabbi declined to comment on Monday.
“I have no intention of discussing this,” said Marilynn Rothstein, executive committee president of Temple Beth Orr. “He wasn’t with us very long.”
However, some temple members were aware of the St. Louis-area arrest at the time.
Harriet Farkas heard about it from others at the temple, and then was shown a newspaper article about it.
“I heard about it at the temple, when he was about to leave. But I thought they dropped the charges,” said Farkas, who is now a trustee at Temple Beth Orr. “When he left, I didn’t think he was going to stay a rabbi.”
Levy joined Temple Beth Orr several months after his Missouri arrest and stayed there for two years. Other temple officials contacted on Monday declined to talk about Levy.
That didn’t surprise the Rev. Tom Economus, president of The Linkup, a Chicago nonprofit group that helps survivors of clergy abuse.
Economus said Jewish parishioners are reluctant to report such issues among their clergy.
“In the Jewish faith, they don’t talk about other people,” Economus said. “They’re the last of the religions starting to come forward. Folks tend to be very quiet about it.”
The Linkup tracks incidents of sexual misconduct by clergy members worldwide. It also helps victims and works to hold churches and religions accountable. He expressed concern about Temple Beth El officials’ knowledge of Levy’s prior arrest.
Clergy who commit such crimes should not simply be moved to another church or temple, Economus said. “They should be monitored so they aren’t put into another position where they can harm children,” he said.
Staff Writer Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.
Kevin Krause can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6604.
Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Rabbi gets 6 1/2 years in teen sex case
By Peter Franceschina
Posted December 29 2001
A tearful Rabbi Jerrold Levy confessed his life’s failings on Friday, saying he devastated his wife, children and congregation — but it didn’t save him from a 6 1/2-year prison sentence for having sex with a teenage boy he seduced over the Internet.
As it became clear U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas was not going to significantly reduce his prison time, the 59-year-old Levy first bowed his head slightly, then took off his glasses and clasped his hands behind his back.
The sentencing hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale was raw with emotion. For more than 10 minutes, a humbled Levy detailed how painfully difficult it has been for him to lead a double life since adolescence, when he first realized he is homosexual.
He broke down when he turned to his wife and their three grown children sitting in the gallery. In a cracking voice he apologized and thanked his wife for standing by him and being his greatest friend. "I’m heartsick about the pain and embarrassment I have caused you," he told his family.
Levy also momentarily faced members of Boca Raton’s Temple Beth El — several of whom had tears in their eyes — and said he hoped they would be able to forgive him. "The nine years we spent together have been good years," he told them.
And he said he regrets the harm he caused the 14-year-old Wellington boy he had sex with in his car, after meeting the boy in an online chat room in February. "I cannot begin to tell him and his family how sorry I am," he said.
Three mental health experts characterized Levy as a desperate man reeling out of control, growing more addicted to exchanging lurid e-mails with young boys. He was extremely depressed and trying to repress his homosexuality, the defense psychologists said, and could no longer control his sexual impulses.
Prosecutors portrayed Levy as a savvy predator who targeted vulnerable boys confused about their sexual identity, spending hours on the Internet soliciting them for sex.
Defense psychologist Arnold Feiner said Levy suffers from a condition not recognized in medical circles, what he called "tortured soul syndrome."
"This was a man who was literally torn up. He was a tormented soul," Feiner said. "I think at one point he said, `I can’t go on with this double life.’"
Levy manifested obsessive-compulsive behaviors — such as spending hours in gay chat rooms popular with teenage boys where he went by his alter ego "CoachBoca" — and his depression caused anxiety and tension in his life, psychologist Edward Sczechowicz said.
"With depression comes compulsive behavior," he said. "He does understand and is highly desirous of changing his behavior."
Psychologist Michael Rapapport agreed with his two colleagues that Levy has been doing well in treatment since his April arrest and that, with continued counseling, the chance he will prey on boys again is remote.
"In a lot of ways, this is bittersweet," he said. "In a lot of ways this is the best thing that ever happened to him because it allows him to address his problems."
Levy said the arrest, in one sense, set him free even while it meant an end to his personal freedom. "I realized for the first time in 45 years I was no longer a prisoner," he said.
Levy’s secret life was exposed by the father of a 16-year-old who found an e-mail to his son soliciting sex. The father, posing as another youth, exchanged e-mails with "CoachBoca" and then went to sheriff’s investigators, who set up a sting.
Levy stepped down as an associate rabbi at Temple Beth El, one of the largest Jewish Reform congregations in South Florida. He pleaded guilty in August to two counts each of luring a minor over the Web and distributing child pornography on the Internet, charges punishable by a maximum of 60 years in prison. The charges incorporated the allegations of having sex with the 14-year-old boy.
The sentencing hearing began Dec. 21 and was continued until Friday. Defense attorneys hoped to show the judge that Levy’s prospects for successful treatment would be hurt by a long prison sentence without counseling — federal sex offenders only qualify for treatment during their last three years.
Attorney Edward Shohat asked the judge to impose a little more than four years, saying a longer sentence could do more harm than good. "Things will get worse. He may not be fixable at that point," he said. "The goal should be the protection of society going forward."
Prosecutors intended to seek a far harsher sentence but decided against putting the 14-year-old boy through the ordeal of testifying, even though he was willing to do so.
Still, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lothrop Morris called Levy a sexual predator who sought out vulnerable boys with whom he felt he wouldn’t be caught, while he didn’t target youths in his congregation. Morris asked for the maximum under the guidelines, eight years and one month.
Dimitrouleas said he had the discretion to lower the guidelines for all the reasons cited by the defense, but he decided against it. He did give Levy a break by going to the low end, 6 1/2 years. The judge acknowledged the outpouring of support for Levy, but he also noted Levy was able to control his sexual impulses when he wanted to do so.
"Rabbi Levy is a remarkable individual who unfortunately has committed terrible acts," Dimitrouleas said, before imposing a sentence that includes three years of probation. During that time, Levy must undergo sexual offender treatment, can’t have a job that brings him into contact with children, can’t go online without permission and can’t have sexually explicit materials.
Federal inmates serve about 85 percent of their time. With the seven months Levy has spent in jail, he’s looking at about another five years behind bars. Temple members were unhappy as they left the courtroom. "He’s mentally ill. This is not the type of sentence you give a mentally ill man," said Stanley Winter.
Judi Levy said she thought the judge was fair in sentencing her father. She thanked her father’s supporters and said she hopes he will be able to continue his good works in the future.
"He is truly a remarkable man who has some serious problems," she said. "It’s my hope he’ll be able to get the help he needs."
WFOR-TV Ch. 4 contributed to this report.
Peter Franceschina can be reached at [email protected] or 561-832-2894.
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel