Nearly two years after a federal jury found that Rabbi Daniel Greer had inflicted $15 million in emotional damages by allegedly molesting a former student, and 18 months after police arrested him for alleged sexual crimes, he hasn’t paid up more than a couple thousand bucks or served any time behind bars.
Why not? Though the Constitution guarantees “a speedy and public trial” to anyone accused of a crime, the accusers themselves aren’t entitled to the same right. More often, the justice system moves slowly, especially whenever a defendant can post bail and retain a top attorney to argue their side.
That’s what’s happening here, as both a criminal trial and court efforts to recoup damages trudge on slowly.
Based on an examination of briefs from six ongoing legal proceedings involving Greer and conversations with legal experts, some explanations emerge: It’s difficult to prove decade-old allegations of sexual abuse. And the particulars of Greer’s case might be slowing things down even further.
What are the accusations?
In mid-2016, Eliyahu Mirlis, a former student at the Yeshiva of New Haven, told New Haven cops that Greer repeatedly sexually assaulted him from September 2002 to June 2005. The abuse began when he was about 14 years old.
Mirlis told detectives that he was sexually assaulted so often that the encounters started to blur together. He recalled, once, that Greer lay naked on top of him in the “69” position; on another occasion, he added, Greer would “get in the doggy position,” hand the teen KY Jelly lube and be penetrated anally. Mirlis told Greer he “didn’t like it” when he was penetrated, but that he also allegedly continued anyway. Mirlis told detectives they didn’t wear condoms.
In July 2017, two months after jurors sided with Mirlis in the civil trial, cops charged Greer with second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. They felt they had enough evidence after Mirlis’s description of a scar by Greer’s testicles — one that the rabbi denied having during the civil trial — matched pictures that detectives were able to take through a search warrant.
After turning himself in, the rabbi immediately posted $100,000 in bond, and his lawyer entered a pro forma not guilty plea.
Where does the case stand now?
The criminal case is now in the pre-trial phase. It has been called on the docket 17 times so far, as the parties have tried to dig up all the evidence that might be relevant to allegations.
In August 2017, the prosecution said it would need notice of any alibis that Greer planned to offer to explain away the specific dates that Mirlis claimed the rabbi had sexually assaulted him.
Meanwhile, Willie Dow, a legendary local defense attorney, argued he’s entitled to any “exculpatory evidence” that could clear Greer, his client. In January 2018, Dow initially said that might include the timeline of Mirlis’s court filings, inconsistent statements, and continued interaction with the rabbi after the alleged abuse.
Just in the last two months, Dow filed other motions saying he believed he still isn’t getting the full picture on Mirlis.
He claimed that Mirlis might have been hospitalized recently for mental-health treatment and that Mirlis might have participated in “an international, multi-million dollar conspiracy” to traffic “misbranded prescription drugs and devices,” smuggled in from Turkey, Canada and other foreign countries, with his brother, Reuven Mirlis, who pleaded guilty to federal crimes in 2015.
Mirlis’s lawyer Antonio Ponvert and a supervising state’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment. Dow declined to comment.
How usual are these delays?
When a defendant isn’t in lockup, it’s quite common for a case to drag on, experts said.
“If a person is incarcerated, there’s an awful lot of pressure to spur the state on. Every day in jail is either wasted time or banked against the future resolution of the case. But if the person’s out, it shifts,” explained Todd Fernow, a University of Connecticut School of Law professor who leads a student clinic on criminal law. “The state has the power generally to accelerate the prosecution of the case. If nobody’s complaining at the delay, there isn’t a speedy trial violation.”
An added complexity in Greer’s case is that the civil trial preceded the criminal trial. Usually they go the other way around, Fernow said, with victims collecting a financial penalty after a criminal conviction.
“That can really complicate the preliminary process quite a bit,” Fernow said. Mostly, that’s because civil cases uncover a lot more information. Witnesses are routinely deposed, then questioned again on the stand. Discovery can also turn up banking and tax records. The attorneys will want to get a hold of all those files and dig in.
“There’s a wealth of collateral evidence that they can use,” Fernow said. “You can’t get any of that in a criminal case. Some prosecutors won’t even give copies of the police reports. The only thing required by the U.S. Constitution is exculpatory evidence, like a recantation. But anything in a gray area, they may or may not turn over.”
How will evidence play out in criminal court?
Many of the facts will be the same. But not all of the evidence from the civil trial will be admissible, nor will it necessarily sway the jury.
“The criminal case is not going to look like the civil,” Fernow said. “There might be legal wrangling about what’s admissible, and they may be trying to locate people.”
During the civil trial, Greer selectively invoked the Fifth Amendment. When Ponvert asked Greer if he’d sexually assaulted Mirlis in his house, at seven rental properties, and at a Branford motel, Greer stayed quiet. But when Ponvert asked Greer if he’d forced Mirlis to have sex with him in the woods in Hamden, Greer denied it.
The civil jury was allowed to read into Greer’s non-answers. A criminal jury will not be allowed to hold it against him.
The civil trial also featured a videotaped deposition by another former student who claimed Greer sexually abused him too, and offered extensive details. That student dodged subpoenas and never showed up in court. The civil jury was allowed to watch his pre-recorded sworn testimony. But a criminal jury will not be allowed to hear what he says if Dow doesn’t get the chance to question him in person.
“The Supreme Court has increasingly enforced the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation of witnesses,” Fernow said. “All the prior testimony that might come into evidence is not admissible in a criminal case unless the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.”
That civil trial was decided on a lower standard of a “preponderance of the evidence,” essentially whichever side was more likely right. Mirlis’s claims will now have to hold up to the higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What’s the status of the civil lawsuit?
In May 2017, Greer lost a $21 million verdict, once punitive damages were added on.
During the trial, he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. A civil jury is legally allowed to draw an “adverse inference” from his silence, while a criminal jury can’t hold it against a defendant.
Still, the rabbi’s attorney, David Grudberg, argued that the non-answers led to “undue prejudice” against Greer.
Five months later, Grudberg filed motions for the judge to reconsider. He asked for a redo on the trial because he allegedly found a new witness who used to teach at the yeshiva. He asked for relief from the judgment because it exceeded that of other sexual abuse cases.
U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea, who presided over the case, rejected both motions.
In December 2017, Greer went higher up, appealing to the Second Circuit Court.
What’s the basis for the appeal?
Grudberg is arguing that the jury just couldn’t see through the “inflammatory” testimony, especially the rabbi’s pleading the Fifth.
“One bedrock principle of American jurisprudence is that cases must be decided on facts and law — and not be influenced by extraneous forces such as sympathy, anger or prejudice,” Grudberg wrote in his initial brief.
Ponvert said the the jury instructions about the Fifth Amendment had been copied almost verbatim from the Second Circuit’s past rulings, with some edits that Greer’s legal team had suggested.
He added that the eight-figure judgment shouldn’t be reduced, since it was exactly what the jury thought Greer deserved. “The sad and horrific fact is that there is no other sexual abuse case with damages meaningfully comparable to this one,” Ponvert wrote.
Grudberg and Ponvert have requested a chance to present oral arguments to the circuit court judges in the coming months.
Have there been any payments at all yet?
Last summer, Mirlis foreclosed on Greer’s West Park Avenue home. But after factoring in exemptions, he could collect only around $67,500 from the property, so he decided to take that as a lump sum in a settlement deal.
Around the same time, a state marshal also seized one of Greer’s bank accounts, collecting just $6,642.
That’s $74,142 altogether in cash.
Matthew Beatman, Mirlis’s collections attorney, also obtained strict foreclosures on the two undeveloped lots in Bethany, valued at roughly $200,000 each. A state judge effectively signed those deeds over to Mirlis in July 2018.
Why has there been so little?
Right after the verdict, Sarah Greer, the rabbi’s wife, pocketed $238,000 from the joint bank account in three transactions, including writing herself a $220,000 check.
In December 2018, Mirlis filed a separate federal lawsuit in federal court against her, claiming that she’d done this “to hinder, delay or defraud” the victim. Last month, her defense attorney, Stuart Margolis, denied the claims in a heavily redacted answer.
Did attorneys seize any of the other properties where Mirlis claims he was abused?
Mirlis told the detectives that, as the abuse became a “regular thing,” Greer sexually assaulted him on a near-weekly basis at the yeshiva’s dorms on Elm Street and at rental properties on Norton Street, Edgewood Avenue, Maple Street and Park Street.
But Beatman hasn’t yet been able to get at any of the 53 rental apartments throughout the Edgewood neighborhood, which are owned by nonprofits that Greer controls. It’s unclear if they’ll ever be able to.
When Ponvert filed the civil case for Mirlis, he included the yeshiva and the nonprofit housing corporations as defendants for showing recklessness in allowing the abuse to continue. But right before trial, Ponvert pulled the nonprofits off.
Since then, Beatman has been trying to tie them back to Greer, including by taking a deposition about their ownership.
What is the status on the foreclosure of the school?
Greer doesn’t want to give up the yeshiva. Instead, his collections attorney Lauren McNair offered Mirlis a cash bond of equal or greater value to the property’s value. By the city’s assessment, that could be at least $6.2 million.
Beatman’s associate, John Cesaroni, however, said in an objection that he was skeptical Greer come up with that kind of cash. He called Greer’s proposal “strikingly lacking” in details. He said McNair had skipped over how much Greer thought the school was worth, how much he was willing to pay in cash, and how he’d even get a loan or even pay it back. Cesaroni called the idea “fatally flawed.”
In March 2018, Beatman’s firm asked for permission to enter the yeshiva to let their appraisers look around. Since then, there have been no new filings in the foreclosure case.
When is the soonest the victim will start receiving significant money?
In December 2018, Judge Shea ordered Greer to start making regular payments of $296 a week. That would be taken from the rabbi’s $1,003 weekly salary from one of the nonprofit housing corporations, plus $46 weekly rental income from a Rhode Island apartment.
Within the month, Greer’s lawyers filed notice of plans to appeal. The rabbi missed his first payments.
Cesaroni too filed a motion asking the judge to garnish wages automatically. A court date hasn’t been set for that argument.
Will the judgment ever be satisfied?
At the current payment rate, probably not — unless Beatman can pierce the corporate veil around Greer’s rental properties.
That’s not unusual, said Thomas McNamara, a lawyer who filed sexual-abuse cases against the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Hartford.
“You can’t get blood from a stone,” McNamara said. “You can have a judgment sitting out there that’s not worth the piece of paper it’s written on.”
Previous coverage of this case:
• Suit: Rabbi Molested, Raped Students
• Greer’s Housing Corporations Added To Sex Abuse Lawsuit
• 2nd Ex-Student Accuses Rabbi Of Sex Assault
• 2nd Rabbi Accuser Details Alleged Abuse
• Rabbi Sexual Abuse Jury Picked
• On Stand, Greer Invokes 5th On Sex Abuse
• Rabbi Seeks To Bar Blogger from Court
• Trial Mines How Victims Process Trauma
• Wife, Secretary Come To Rabbi Greer’s Defense
• Jury Awards $20M In Rabbi Sex Case
• State Investigates Greer Yeshiva’s Licensing
• Rabbi Greer Seeks New Trial
• Affidavit: Scar Gave Rabbi Greer Away
• Rabbi Greer Pleads Not Guilty
• $21M Verdict Upheld; Where’s The $?
• Sex Abuse Victim’s Video Tests Law
• Decline at Greer’s Edgewood “Village”?
• Rabbi’s Wife Sued For Stashing Cash