A federal grand joy has returned a one-count indictment of sexual abuse of a minor against Yehudah Friedlander, one of two Chasidic men arrested earlier this month after an overnight flight from Australia to Los Angeles.
Friedlander is an assistant to Rabbi Israel Grunwald, who leads a small faction of Pupa Chasidim in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn.
Friedlander and Grunwald were arrested together, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Yang said it has not been determined whether an indictment would be sought against the rabbi.
Friedlander is free on $200,000 bail and has been ordered to appear in court here on Monday.
At that time, he will hear the formal charges and enter a plea of innocence, according to his attorney, Michael Abzug.
If convicted, Friedlander could face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charges against the two men, contained in a nine-page FBI affidavit, allege that during a plane ride from Australia to Los Angeles, Grunwald and Friedlander fondled and groped a 15-year-old American girl, sitting one seat away.
After complaints from the girl and a woman who said she witnessed the incident, the two men were arrested as they stepped off the plane in Los Angeles.
Grunwald, who would face the less serious charge of sexually touching a minor, was released on $10,000 bail and returned to New York.
He was originally scheduled to appear in court on June 26, but his attorney, Mitchell Egers, said there would be a delay.
According to the FBI affidavit, Friedlander told one agent that it was the girl who initiated the advances. But he also admitted, “I shouldn’t have done it, but it happened.”
Abzug denied that Friedlander, the father of five children, had made such a confession, adding that there was a question whether other statements had been lawfully obtained.
The accusations have been met with shock and disbelief in the Chasidic community of Borough Park, where Grunwald leads some 100 followers in a breakaway faction of the Pupa sect.
He is the son of the late Josef Grunwald, the Hungarian-born founder and grand rabbi of the 12,000-member Pupa movement. On the founder’s death, the title developed on his older son, Yakov Grunwald, who heads the main Pupa community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
According to the New York Jewish Week, there has been a longstanding feud between the two brothers, with Israel Grunwald in Borough Park refusing to recognize the authority of his older brother in Williamsburg.