(CN) – A New York rabbi could skip one-third of his sentence for sexually abusing his young daughter after convincing an appeals court on Tuesday that his conviction for traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct did not apply, since he traveled between foreign countries while molesting his daughter, rather than within the U.S.
Israel Weingarten, who made headlines in 2009 for aggressively cross-examining the daughter he was accused of molesting while representing himself in court, could shave 10 years from his 30-year sentence based on his appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel reversed one of Weingarten’s five convictions, for “travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct,” a charge that got him a 10-year, consecutive sentence.
Weingarten was convicted of two counts of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and three counts of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
Weingarten, his then-wife and their eight children shuffled between homes in Brooklyn, Belgium and Israel. The Federal Court in Manhattan found that Weingarten molested his daughter in all three locations when she was between the ages of 9 and 16, but prosecutors had imposed one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct specifically for Weingarten’s travel between Israel and Belgium.
And though the circuit court found that Congress meant for the statute to cover criminal activity conducted abroad, it only applied when the travel included stops within the U.S.
“[W]e conclude that travel by a United States citizen between two foreign countries, absent any territorial nexus to the United States, does not constitute ‘travel in foreign commerce’ within the meaning of the statute,” Circuit Judge Deborah Ann Livingston wrote.
The court rejected the rest of Weingarten’s arguments.
When Weingarten, a Hassidic rabbi, represented himself during his 2009 trial, his daughter, son and ex-wife all testified against him. He notoriously made his daughter break down crying in court by cross-examining her for hours, in an attempt to make her change her version of the abuse she recounted.
District Judge John Gleeson eventually cut off the accused. “Mr. Weingarten, if anybody is going to admonish the witness it’s going to be me,” the New York Daily News reported the judge saying.
“You have created a fairly untenable, horrific situation by deciding to represent yourself,” the judge continued. “Now, I’m not sure where this cross-examination is going, but I know you are not going to lecture this witness.”
Weingarten’s daughter said her father molested her “almost every night, often while her mother slept in the same room.”