School writes to parents about coach photo scandal
In a letter sent on Tuesday by Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, dean of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and Eli Weber, the school’s president, parents were notified that Adam Melzer, the River Edge school’s former basketball coach, had been arrested for child endangerment.
According to a statement from Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli, Melzer, a married Teaneck resident, allegedly targeted at least four former RYNJ students, securing nude photos of the teens then between the ages of 14 and 16 by claiming that blackmailers already had pictures of the boys naked.
The prosecutor’s office also reported that four boys involved in the investigation stated that the conversations they had with Melzer regarding the photos he requested, as well as the actual taking of the photos, took place in ‘006 and ‘007, when Melzer was a supervisor at a youth basketball program in River Edge where they served as volunteers.
The arrest came about as a result of an investigation conducted by members of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Squad.
According to the RYNJ letter, Melzer was not rehired for the ‘008-09 school year because of scheduling conflicts.
Telling parents that "we have not been informed by law enforcement officers of any specific details nor have we been questioned concerning the allegations against him," the letter further noted that "during the time that Mr. Melzer served as our coach, we received no reports of improper behavior or anything that would have raised even the slightest concern."
Stressing that the school maintains "a zero tolerance policy with respect to behavior that may endanger children," the two school leaders said RYNJ had "procedures in place to respond responsibly and quickly should any allegations against our staff ever occur . We have in the past and will in the future contact the appropriate law enforcement agency whenever there is a claim of child endangerment or any other crime against one of our students."
Goldstein and Weber offered to meet with interested parents the following night, with a counselor available "for those seeking additional guidance." Reiterating that the yeshiva is not involved in the investigation, they urged those with direct knowledge related to the allegations to call the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office directly.
Dr. Wallace Greene, director of Jewish Educational Services at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the affair "sad and unfortunate. This goes back to the Baruch Lanner case," he said. "At the time there were calls for stricter background checks, but I don’t know if any formal policies were adopted. This is precisely why they’re needed."
Lanner, former of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean, and director of regions for the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, was found guilty in ’00’ of sexually abusing teenagers.
Greene noted that while he cannot cite similar cases of sexual abuse in this area, he does not know if individual religious schools do more than "review r?sum?s and check references."
According to Gloria Montealegre, spokesperson for Gov. Jon Corzine, a New Jersey law passed in 1986 mandates "criminal history record checks for final candidates for school employee positions." While the law was amended in ‘006 to authorize local school districts to require volunteers to undergo the background checks, "there is no statewide requirement that volunteers undergo the checks," said Montealegre.
She added that the law applies to public schools only, since "we do not have jurisdiction over private schools. They make their own decisions."
Charged with four counts of child endangerment, Melzer turned himself in to county authorities in Paramus last Friday. Held on $50,000 bail, he was scheduled to be arraigned in municipal court on Tuesday.