May 15, 2015 / 8:38 PM / 2 years ago

Washington 'peeping Tom' rabbi sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prominent Washington rabbi who pleaded guilty to secretly videotaping dozens of women naked during ritual baths was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison on Friday.

Rabbi Barry Freundel, 63, pleaded guilty in February to 52 misdemeanor counts of voyeurism. He admitted recording the women between March 2012 and September 2014 using devices installed in changing rooms.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin handed down the sentence before a packed courtroom.

Prosecutors had sought a 17-year prison term, and Freundel's attorney Jeffrey Harris had asked for a community service sentence.

Freundel was the head of the Kesher Israel synagogue, one of the U.S. capital region's most prominent Orthodox congregations, for 25 years. He also held various academic positions, including as a lecturer at Washington's Georgetown University.

The recording devices were installed in the National Capital Mikvah, next to the Kesher synagogue. The mikvah, or ritual bath, is used most frequently as purification by people converting to Judaism and by Jewish women seven days after the end of their menstrual cycle

Prosecutors said at least 52 women were recorded nude or partly nude on 25 different dates.

Prosecutors have said Freundel had recorded about 100 more women, but those fell outside the three-year statute of limitations. The videotaping took place from 2009 to 2014.

Police began investigating Freundel when a woman found a camera in a clock radio in the bathing area and turned it over to officers.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Freundel had created an elaborate system to file and view the recordings. He also asked conversion candidates to carry out a "practice dunk" before the actual conversion, a practice not sanctioned in Jewish law, they said.

Kesher Israel fired Freundel in December. The synagogue's congregants have included U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.

Editing by Ian Simpson and Doina Chiacu

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