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Jun 21, 3:06 PM EDT

Appeals court hears case of rabbi who videotaped nude women



WASHINGTON (AP) -- A once-prominent Orthodox rabbi's argument that his sentence for secretly videotaping nude women at a Jewish ritual bath should have been limited to one year in jail seemed unlikely to sway a Washington appeals court at a hearing Tuesday.

Rabbi Bernard Freundel was arrested in 2014 after one of his recording devices was discovered at the National Capital Mikvah in Washington. Prosecutors found he filmed some 150 women using recording devices hidden in a clock radio, a fan and a tissue box holder, and he ultimately took a plea deal in the case and was sentenced to approximately 6 years.

Freundel acknowledged as part of the plea deal that from 2009 to 2014 he secretly recorded women in a showering and changing area of the mikvah, a ritual cleansing bath he worked to have built. A statute of limitations would have barred prosecutors from charging Freundel for every recording, and he pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism, a charge that carries up to a year in jail.

A judge sentenced him to 45 days on each count, running the sentences one after another.

On Tuesday, his lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, argued to a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals that the sentences should have merged and run concurrently, meaning Freundel would have served 45 days.

Judge Roy W. McLeese III told Harris that it seemed "somewhat implausible" that the lawmakers who drafted the voyeurism statute intended a to create a law where no matter how many people were taped or cameras installed, the sentences would have merged and been limited to a year.

But the judges did ask about the fact that Freundel had pleaded guilty to 52 counts, with each count referencing both installing a hidden recording in addition to actually secretly recording the women.

Freundel essentially set up recording devices on 25 occasions because he captured multiple women on a single day, sometimes from several devices. The judges wondered if it was a problem that his plea referenced installing devices 52 times. It wasn't clear that was an issue or whether it would affect Freundel's sentence.

Prosecutor Nicholas Coleman stressed that by agreeing to the plea Freundel waived any argument that the government's evidence didn't support 52 separate counts.

Freundel is currently serving his sentence at the D.C. Jail and was not in court. Before his arrest, he led the Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington for 25 years and was particularly sought out by people who wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism.

Some of those Freundel videotaped were women whose conversion to Judaism he was supervising. Prosecutors have said he also invited women from classes he taught at Towson University in Maryland and Georgetown University's law school to visit and use the mikvah in order to record them.

It could be weeks or months before the Court of Appeals issues its decision.

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Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jessicagresko. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jessica-gresko.

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