NEW YORK (Jul. 14)
More than 200 Chasidim erupted in applause and cheers this week as Dov Hikind, newly acquitted of federal bribery charges, emerged from his office on Boro Park’s main thoroughfare.
With one arm slung around his lawyer’s shoulders and the other around his wife, the New York state assemblyman, representing the largely Chasidic Brooklyn neighborhood, descended from his second-floor district office to declare: “God was on our side.”
Hikind’s words Tuesday came one day after he was found not guilty of federal charges that he had used government-provided money, funneled through Boro Park’s Council of Jewish Organizations, to pay for personal expenses, including his children’s yeshiva tuition and family vacations in Paris and Israel.
As supporters pressed up close under the bright July sun, Hikind thanked his lawyers, family and community members for supporting him throughout the experience.
He said he is planning to run for another office, which he refused to name but is widely believed to be the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Charles Schumer.
At the rally, held outside Amnon’s Kosher Pizza Shop — which had handwritten signs taped to its front proclaiming its customers’ faith in their state assemblyman — Hikind also vowed to recreate the neighborhood’s Council of Jewish Organizations.
The council, which had been the area’s most important social service agency and had received millions of dollars in federal, state and local aid for job training, youth and senior services as well as assistance to immigrants, was effectively put out of business when two of its senior officials were indicted last year.
Hikind and Rabbi Elimelech Naiman, who managed COJO, were both charged last year with diverting some $45,000 in taxpayer funds to their own pockets over a period of six years.
Paul Chernik, COJO’s director of operations, pleaded guilty to fraud last year, saying he paid “a reward” to Hikind for helping the group. Chernik awaits sentencing.
Naiman, who was on trial with Hikind, was found guilty Monday of misapplying the funds and of bribery.
Observers of the legal proceedings said the seemingly contradictory conclusion reached by the jury was most likely based on what the jury members viewed as each defendant’s intent.
Naiman, the observers said, was convicted because he intended to bribe Hikind. The assemblyman was not, apparently because the jury found that he did not intend to provide favors to COJO in exchange for the gifts.
The Jews of Boro Park hailed the acquittal of the lawmaker who they say knows how to take care of them.
“Nothing gets done around here without him,” said Ephraim Landau, 28, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who heads the Boro Park Shomrim Safety Patrol, a group that guards the area against crime.
Isaac Hager, a 60-something man snapping photos of Hikind’s triumphant return, explained Hikind’s importance to the neighborhood by relating a story from his own life.
Hager, who described himself as a semi-retired producer of Chasidic music, said his daughter was having trouble retrieving her belongings from a shipping company when she moved back to the United States from Israel.
“I called Hikind. He made a couple of calls and like that,” Hager said, snapping his fingers, “her things were right at her front door the next day.”