At Trial, Rabbi Snared in Sex Sting Says He Believed Liaison Was with an Adult
By Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week [Alexandria VA]
August 23, 2006
The local rabbi caught in a Dateline NBC sting of online sexual predators told a federal judge Tuesday that he believed he was going to be meeting a "young adult," despite his Internet chat partner's claims of being just 13 years old.
Testifying in his own defense at his trial on charges of "coercion and enticement" and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual contact with a minor, David Kaye, 55, said he believed the person he was supposed to meet had been lying about personal details and engaged in a "role play."
Kaye said such role playing was fairly typical over the dozen or so years he had been meeting men via America Online chat rooms. He pointed out that his own chat "profile" on AOL lied about his name, age and occupation, among other characteristics.
Going to the house of someone he met over the Internet also was not out of the ordinary, Kaye said, revealing that he had been hiding a "secret life" of engaging in "secret adult homosexual liaisons" for more than 30 years.
When Kaye arrived at a Herndon house Aug. 17, 2005, expecting, he said, such a liaison, he instead met Dateline NBC reporter Chris Hansen and a camera crew. The network television show had been working with an organization called Perverted Justice, a controversial group whose volunteers pose as children online to expose potential Internet predators.
Kaye, who resigned after three years as vice president for program at the Rockville-based teen educational group Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values after the Dateline broadcast the segment last November, was indicted on charges related to the televised incident in May and waived his right to a jury trial. Alexandria U.S. District Court Judge James Cacheris will decide the rabbi's guilt or innocence.
Kaye previously had been a rabbi for 16 years at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac.
Closing arguments were made Tuesday afternoon and the judge said the decision would come down in the next couple of weeks.
Each count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Kaye and his lawyer, Peter Greenspun, argued this week that the language used in the chat by the Perverted Justice staffer posing as 13-year-old "Conrad," the photo that "Conrad" sent and the voice on a phone call made by another Perverted Justice staffer posing as "Conrad" all indicated that Kaye's chat partner was older than he claimed.
Greenspun also charged that Dateline and Perverted Justice pursued Kaye for a liaison, not the other way around ‹ noting that of the several chats conducted over 10 days before Kaye drove to Herndon, the rabbi initiated only the first one. Greenspun pointed to one chat in which Kaye appears to not even remember who "Conrad" was ‹ a contention that Sean O'Connor, who posed as "Conrad" online, didn't dispute.
"There were no other chats initiated by David Kaye, no e-mails, no calls," said Greenspun.
In cross-examination, assistant U.S. attorney Edmund Power raised questions about Kaye's story, noting it was Kaye who first referred to "Conrad" as being just 13. Kaye could not say how he knew his chat partner's age, but denied that he had looked at an Internet profile that O'Connor had posted indicating his age as 13.
Power also noted that Kaye asked "Conrad" if he was a cop, an indication that Kaye feared a sting. Kaye responded that "this person represented himself as 13, I didn't believe him, [but] I played both sides of it."
In addition, the assistant U.S. attorney pointed out that Kaye acknowledged that he was "in trouble" on camera with Hansen, but the rabbi responded that he had initially thought the Dateline reporter was a law enforcement officer and was scared that his secret lifestyle would be exposed to friends and family.
Throughout the cross-examination, Kaye often said he had no recollection of the chats or even his encounter with Dateline NBC cameras. He conceded, however, that a DVD the government played of the Dateline case accurately represented the incident.
He said he didn't recall his conversation with Hansen because of "panic."
"I wanted to erase that completely from my memory," he said. "I was hoping never to have to recall that."
Earlier in his testimony, Kaye, who described his urges as an addiction, told the court that he had "struggled with sexual identity issues" since he was a young adult and for his "entire married life" of 30 years.
"It was quite a burden on me," Kaye said, and he felt a "tremendous amount of shame" about it.
Before the advent of the Internet, Kaye said he had carried on anonymous liaisons "in very public places ‹ parks, bathrooms," even though they were "dangerous places" and he "couldn't understand why" he exposed himself to such risks.
Once he heard about AOL in the mid-1990s, he switched to meeting men in their "M4M," or male for male, chatrooms. RedBd, his chat name, was short for "Red Beard," a screen name he adopted when, he said, he was younger and his hair was redder.
In spite of the advice and counseling he gave to congregants and others over those years, "I was not able to come to terms and join therapy to deal with my sexual identity questions," Kaye said emotionally. "It was very taxing mentally."
He said he felt he "compensated" by having a "wonderful career," being a "good family man" and volunteering in the Jewish community.
The only person who did know about his secret life was friend Lisa Mandel-Trupp, who testified that Kaye told her about three years ago that he had been involved in a number of "adult homosexual relationships" over the years, including during his marriage. His divorce was finalized in December.
Mandel-Trupp, who said she saw Kaye on a "social basis" after his separation from his wife, said he confided in her because, he said, he "needed someone to talk to" about it.
Mandel-Trupp's Monday testimony followed the government's straightforward presentation of its evidence earlier in the day, which included as witnesses Perverted Justice members O'Connor and Alison Shea, a 24-year-old with a portion of her hair tinted purple who posed as "Conrad" on a telephone call to Kaye.
Greenspun asked O'Connor whether, in reality, he had been the one enticing Kaye into a liaison, not the other way around.
Greenspun noted that the Perverted Justice member told Kaye early in their conversation that his father would be going out of town later in the month and leaving him home alone ‹ a hint that they should meet. O'Connor responded that while he "mentioned" that, it was "up to the other person" to suggest a meeting.
While Kaye was the first person to use sexually explicit language in the chat ‹ the rabbi explained that his experience in male-to-male chatrooms taught him to "get to the point" quickly ‹ Greenspun argued that the sexually explicit language the Perverted Justice member subsequently utilized was atypical of a 13-year-old.
The defense also presented two experts to bolster Kaye's argument that "Conrad" was actually much older than he claimed.
Arlen Rosenbloom, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida, testified that the photo that "Conrad" sent Kaye ‹ which O'Connor said he took off an "adoption Web site" without permission ‹ was "consistent with someone over 18."
He based that contention on an analysis of facial features, noting that the "brow was fully developed" and the subject had a "fully mature nose."
Testimony, though, by the defense's other expert witness, forensic audio and video analyst Bruce Koenig, seemed to backfire.
Koenig said that his analysis of Shea's voice found a "fundamental frequency" consistent with an adult female. Yet, under cross-examination, he said that the "fundamental frequency" of Shea's taped voice also was consistent with that of a boy between the ages of 12 and 13 1/2.
Kaye testified that the voice he heard "clearly was a mature voice," and indeed he did say in the chat that "Conrad" sounded "very mature."
Also as part of the government's case, a staffer at Kaye's former employer, Panim, told the court that Kaye, in the days following the Dateline sting last August, had asked her how he could remove personal items from his computer.
Debbie Monroe, chief financial officer and manager of the organization's computer network, said she "told him if he deleted the items most people wouldn't be able to find them," but that the "only way" to guarantee such items wouldn't be located would be to "take the hard drive out."
After Kaye's Nov. 1 resignation from Panim, Monroe said she searched the hard drive and found two photos of Kaye naked, then took the hard drive out of the computer and gave it to Keith Rosen, an attorney with Chadbourne and Parke.
Chadbourne lawyer Abbe Lowell led an investigation of Kaye's conduct at Panim that, he said in May, found "no evidence that Rabbi Kaye ever acted inappropriately at Panim" or "with any Panim participant." (The hard drive was eventually turned over to law enforcement authorities, while the computer from which it was taken was given to another Panim staffer.)
Lowell at the time would not comment on whether Kaye ever carried on chats while at work with Panim, although the transcripts of the chats do contain two instances in which he responds that he's at work.
Kaye testified that no child pornography was found on his work computer, and the government presented no evidence of any such materials in Kaye's possession, nor of any past sexual encounters with minors. None of Kaye's previous employers has found any evidence that the rabbi behaved inappropriately with minors during his employment.
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