NJ yeshiva teacher seeks to change sex abuse plea

Yosef Kolko, 39, arrives through an enclosed walkway at the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, N.J. on Thursday, May 9, 2013, for his trial on charges he sexually abused a boy. The yeshiva teacher was working in 2007 at a camp run by an Orthodox Jewish school when he met the boy, then 11. Prosecutors say the boy's parents were pressured by members of their Orthodox Jewish community to drop the charges and let a rabbinical court deal with them. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

September 7, 2013 3:07:57 PM PDT
A former New Jersey yeshiva camp counselor who pleaded guilty in May to sexually abusing a child is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and claims he was pressured by his Orthodox Jewish community.

An attorney for Yosef Kolko told The Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/13sEma8) that he has filed a motion to withdraw Kolko's guilty plea. Kolko pleaded guilty May 13 in the middle of a trial in state Superior Court to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sex assault, sexual assault and child endangerment.

Prosecutors allege the abuse occurred from August 2008 to February 2009 and ranged from fondling to oral sex and stopped when the boy told his father, who confronted Kolko. The boy was 11 when the alleged abuse began. He testified during the trial.

Attorney Alan Zegas told The Press that Kolko, 39, "was significantly pressured" from the community to plead guilty. At the time of the plea, the case was viewed as a potential watershed for the prosecutor's office and the Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood, which had previously been reluctant to bring criminal matters to civil authorities, preferring instead to handle them through rabbinical courts and senior rabbis.

The victim's father had initially wanted the case handled within Lakewood's Orthodox community, asking a senior rabbi to help ensure that Kolko stay away from children and go to therapy. In mid-2009, the father decided to take the case to authorities. Prosecutors had said the boy's family was ostracized by the community for pursuing the case in state court. The boy's father, a prominent rabbi, lost his job and the family moved to Michigan.

On the day of Kolko's plea, when Judge Francis R. Hodgson asked him if he had received any promises or was threatened or coerced in exchange for his plea, Kolko answered softly that there were things that were "not part of the court system."

A judge gave Zegas until the end of the month to file a brief in support of his motion to withdraw the guilty plea. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for October 17.