FBI Busts Rabbi For In-Flight Groping

This article is from The Smoking Gun

FBI Busts Rabbi For In-Flight Groping

Unorthodox behavior came on flight from Tel Aviv

APRIL 14--An Israeli rabbi flying to New York from Tel Aviv allegedly twice fondled a female passenger as she slept, and when the woman angrily confronted him, he claimed, “It’s a mistake, I’m asleep,” according to federal court records.

Rabbi Gavriel Bidany, 47, was named earlier this month in a criminal information charging him with misdemeanor assault. A complaint sworn by FBI Agent Janet Ambrisco provides a detailed account of the March 27 incident on Delta Airlines Flight 269.

About 90 minutes into the 12-hour flight, Bidany allegedly reached over to the sleeping woman seated next to him and “placed his hand under her blanket, on her groin, and was groping her genital area.” When the victim, identified only as “Jane Doe” in the complaint, “jumped back,” Bidany “quickly removed his hand from her groin.”

The woman told the FBI that she then “pulled her blanket back over her head and body.” But minutes later, Bidany allegedly again “reached under the passenger’s blanket, this time groping the passenger’s breasts.”

“What are you doing, stop touching me,” she told Bidany. He replied, “It’s a mistake, I’m asleep,” according to Ambrisco. The female passenger “then left her seat to advise the flight crew of the incident.” Delta personnel confirmed to the FBI that the passenger had reported the inappropriate touching to them, and one crew member described the woman as “visibly shaken and frantic.”

Saul Bienenfeld, Bidany’s lawyer, declined today to discuss the case against his client, but said that the rabbi “asserts his total innocence” and contends that the alleged sexual contact “never occurred.”

Following his arrest, Bidany posted $250,000 bond and was ordered to surrender his passport and limit his travels to the New York City metropolitan area. At his April 5 arraignment, the Orthodox rabbi sought permission to return to Israel, though that request was denied by a magistrate judge.

In a subsequent motion, Bienenfeld asked for his client’s curfew to be relaxed since during the Passover holiday he “needs to be in synagogue past 9 PM” and “wishes to see more of those individuals who seek advice in communities that are not near the area that he is sleeping.” At the time, Bidany was staying at a residence on Long Island.

Bidany’s bail package was further modified yesterday, when a judge agreed to allow him to travel to Israel from April 14 to May 1. In a motion, Bienenfeld said that his client wanted to return to Israel “for the Passover holiday,” and had also recently learned that his father is “gravely ill.” Bidany’s bond was increased to $500,000 by Magistrate Judge James Orenstein.

The rabbi’s trial is scheduled for May 4.