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Developing: Jewish Family Service denies Australian news report of ‘harboring’ pedophile

by Jonah Lowenfeld

April 12, 2013 | 9:03 pm

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has rejected accusations that the organization or any member of its staff attempted to shield a known pedophile from law enforcement.

Responding to reports that first appeared on April 10 in the Sydney Morning Herald, a respected Australian newspaper, the 157-year-old L.A.-based social services agency released a statement reaffirming its commitment to following “all mandated reporting laws to the letter.”

The statement also defended its former staff member, Debbie Fox, who until October 2012 was the director of children and family services at JFS, and who also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS that serves the local Orthodox community.

“At no time did Aleinu staff ever shield a suspect from local or international law enforcement in any way whatsoever, nor would they ever do so,” JFS’ statement read. “Rather, Aleinu staff follows all mandated reporting laws to the letter, working closely with local law enforcement, without exception.”

The original report in the Herald, just one of a string of stories coming out about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, is connected to the case of a single unnamed alleged Jewish child abuser from Australia who later made his home in Los Angeles. That individual is, according to the Herald, under investigation by detectives in Australia. In 2011, the man’s case was brought to Fox’s attention by an unnamed accuser, who alleged that he had been molested by this individual in Australia.

According to JFS CEO Paul Castro, the alleged victim approached Fox hoping to “find a way to get the powers that be, within the Orthodox community, to pay attention to this individual that she identified as an alleged perpetrator.”

“He didn’t give us particulars, he didn’t give us details,” Castro said of the alleged victim. “He said it was something that occurred many years ago in a different community.”

As a result, Castro said, Fox never opened a file about the case, but she did bring the matter to the attention of a council of Orthodox rabbis that consults with Aleinu on matters where legal action is not possible but where the community’s interests may require that some protective action be taken.

“From our perspective and Debbie’s,” Castro told the Journal, “it was about how to connect the person who was making the allegations and the alleged perpetrator to resources within the Orthodox community.”

Fox contacted the Journal on April 12 but said she could not speak immediately with a reporter. She agreed to be interviewed within the coming days.

Rabbi Avrohom Union, the rabbinic administrator of the Rabbinical Council of California, is a member of Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board. Although he could not recall the details of the case, he said he did remember Fox bringing the case to the group’s attention.

But, Union said, as a matter of course, the rabbis on the board were not consulted about whether to report cases where the law clearly required it; Fox, Aleinu staff and JFS as an agency are all mandated reporters under California law.

Rather, Union said, “The matters that were brought to us were where there was no legal remedy, and we considered what additional steps could be taken to provide protection where there was a concern for the community.”

The Herald story, which ran under the headline “Jewish welfare group knows it is sheltering a paedophile,” focused on what JFS and Fox knew and did in 2011 after the unnamed alleged victim warned Fox about the unnamed alleged abuser. The article quoted from e-mails reportedly written by Fox and “obtained from U.S. sources” that suggest Fox was protecting a known abuser.

“I have no idea how anyone found out — but calls are coming daily from many sources,” Fox reportedly wrote in an e-mail that the Herald report claimed Fox had sent to the alleged abuser. “So far, we've been protecting you.''

But according to Nancy Volpert, JFS’ director of public policy and media relations, no one from JFS was contacted by the Sydney Morning Herald either before the publication of the story or since.

“They did not attempt to reach us through any of the media channels or through our main contacts,” Volpert told the Journal on April 12.

Castro said he had spoken with Fox in the days since the Herald’s article was published. In the original article, the Herald reported that “Ms. Fox did not respond to questions,” but Castro said Fox told him that she had not been contacted by any member of the Herald staff either.

Reached by phone in Melbourne, Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the original story for the Herald, told the Journal on Friday that he had sent two emails to Fox's email address at JFS and received no response.

As of Friday morning, Fox was still listed as an active member of the JFS staff; by the afternoon her name and email adddress had been removed from the page.

Asked if JFS had looked at any of Fox’s e-mails dealing with the matter, Castro said that he had not, and was placing trust in Fox’s assertions.

“At this point, we have not done that,” Castro said. “Debbie is a long-standing employee with a tremendous reputation for ethics.”

For more on this developing story, visit jewishjournal.com.

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