EXCLUSIVE: Ex-inmate discusses perks

June 16, 2009 3:35:51 PM PDT
A former inmate at the New York City jail known as The Tombs is speaking out and revealing startling details about preferential treatment he and other inmates received because they are Jewish. The accusations include everything from special food to even a bar mitzvah behind bars.

The correction chief suspected of approving the bar mitzvah turned in his resignation Tuesday, and a rabbi at the jail has also stepped down.

The rabbi's resignation is only the latest twist in an eye-popping scandal. Eyewitness News spoke exclusively with a man who served almost three years behind bars, but not the kind of hard time you might expect. In fact, he compares Rikers Island to a college dorm. His identity has been concealed in case others would retaliate against him.

"If you're gonna do the crime, you gotta do the time," former inmate "Murray" said. "Rikers Island should be Rikers Island...I should have been treated like everybody else."

Murray is not his real name, but he spent nearly three years in city jails and state prisons. It is an ordeal, for most people, with long hours of confinement, boredom and bad food. But for Murray, prison was very different. Different, he says, because he is Jewish.

"Instead of being in my jail cell 9 to 5 like everybody else would be, I would be down in the office doing as I pleased," he said. "Eating all this great food and watching movies that are brought in, DVDs from the street, drinking whatever soda I want, using the telephone whenever I wanted."

Murray said it was all made possible by Orthodox Brooklyn rabbi and corrections department chaplain Leib Glanz, who allegedly created an enclave for Jewish inmates in the city's prison system.

Murray says inmates spent most of their waking hours in the chaplain's office at the Manhattan facility known as The Tombs or on Riker's Island, playing dice games and poker, watching videos and making unlimited phone calls.

Murray: "Guys were on the phone, having phone sex with their wives, with their girlfriends, talking dirty."
Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett: "In the rabbi's office? In the presence of the rabbi?"
Murray: "Yes."

Last week, the rabbi refused to discuss the allegations. They reportedly include arranging a bar mitzvah inside The Tombs for the son of convicted scam artist Tuvia Stern in December. A Hebrew rock star reportedly entertained some 60 guests in the jail's gymnasium.

Stern, who pleaded guilty to bail jumping and grand larceny, also held an engagement party at the jail four months later. The city's Department of Investigation is looking into the matter.

The Department of Corrections' second in command, Chief Peter Curcio, has already resigned, and several others have been disciplined. Curcio, who is responsible for security in the city's jails, told the department that he plans to retire.

But the city's investigation is not over.

Now, Murray says he's coming forward because, for the city's Jewish inmates, prison is no longer a deterrent.

"The comfort level that he provided to me, that the other rabbis provided to me, made me not think twice about committing another crime," Murray said. "And even when I went back to the jails, I knew I'd be treated like a king."

Rabbi Glanz could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for the department refused to comment on the investigation.