A nightmare revisited: Documentary on former Bayside High teacher to hit theaters in June

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Almost 14 years to the day since Arnold and Jesse Friedman were arrested on hundreds of charges of child molestation in Great Neck, a documentary about the pair and their family will be released nationwide showing the Friedman clan from a very different perspective.

“Capturing the Friedmans,” a play on words for sure, documents the Friedman family with their own home movies, filmed from the time the Friedman children were born to the day Jesse pleaded guilty in court to four charges of sexual abuse.

Ironically enough, the idea for the movie, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, was a fluke.

“About three years ago we were working on a film about birthday clowns in New York City,” Director Andrew Jarecki said at Tribeca Film Festival screening. “That’s where we met David Friedman, the No. 1 party clown in the city.”

Three years ago, David Friedman was growing increasingly frustrated by his brother Jesse Friedman repeatedly being denied parole. When he met Jarecki, he started talking about his own idea for a film that could be made — one that would tell his family’s side of the story about his brother and father, vilified by their Great Neck community as sexual predators.

After all, in May 1989, Arnold Friedman, 55, and Jesse Friedman, 19, were arrested, charged with multiple counts of rape, sodomy and child abuse.

Arnold Friedman, a retired Bayside High School chemistry teacher, had been teaching computer classes to kids aged 8-15 for several years when he was arrested by inspectors with the United States Postal Service on charges of receiving child porn in the mail.

Inspector John McDermott had set up a sting which lured Arnold Friedman. When a pornographic magazine with pictures of children was hand-delivered to Friedman’s 17 Picadilly Rd. address in Great Neck, inspectors had the evidence they needed. After securing a warrant, their search turned up a single stack of pornographic magazines.

Though Arnold Friedman was charged with possessing child porn, the USPS investigation was just the tip of the iceberg. Inspectors notified the Nassau County Police Department, which started its own investigation.

The cops went through the roster of his former and current students and assembled a lurid list of sexual details from the teens ranging from games of “leapfrog” with the boys bent over naked in a circle and the father and son leaping from one to the next to tales of rape and secret shame.

One student said he had been forcibly raped 30 times in a 10-week period and that when he re-enrolled for advanced classes, he was raped another 41 times in a separate 10-week period.

But there was no physical evidence.

And none of the students told any of their parents until after Arnold Friedman was arrested on child porn charges by the USPS.

And there wasn’t a single doctor who, in the course of routine checkups, noticed anything physically wrong with any of the teenage accusers.

And some of the kids being questioned were told by police, when they said they did not remember anything improper about their computer classes, “You’d better remember because if you don’t you’re going to be gay when you grow up.”

And there was the question of hypnosis used with the alleged victims — some say to release repressed memories, others say to implant memories.

“The way this played out suggests that the kids remembered the abuse long enough to tell the police, then forgot it when asked in therapy but later remembered after hypnosis,” David Friedman said. “It is very strange that they could somehow forget the abuse. How do you ‘forget’ being raped 41 times over a 10-week period?”

Just as the screening of “Capturing the Friedmans” May 30 in Great Neck is sure to cause furor in the community, the years of anger and frustration led to raised voices and angry words at the Tribeca Film Festival when David Friedman, the now-paroled Jesse Friedman, attorneys, police, prosecutors, other family members and former computer students were all on hand to watch the film and discuss it afterward.

Judd Maltin, Jesse’s best friend in high school and a computer student as well, said: “I was there and nothing happened. Nothing ever happened.”

In fact, only one former student who stands by the accusation of 14 years ago appears in the film, but he remains unidentified (as do some witnesses who recanted their testimony or simply said they do not recall anything happening).

His recounting of what happened in the Friedmans’ basement classroom is told very casually, without the slightest bit of emotion, and even with a few chuckles.

The film’s director said he was hesitant to put this alleged victim in the final cut because of the circumstances under which the man agreed to tell his tale. The crew contacted 60 of the 81 alleged victims, and it was only after agreeing to tell the anonymous former student that nobody had been able to confirm the allegations against the Friedmans that the former student said: “Well, I guess you hit the jackpot with me.”

Though the accusations were numerous and there were reports of videos and photos being taken of the sex acts, there has never been a single shred of proof that any of this happened. Not one photo has surfaced. Not one former Bayside High School student has ever approached police. Not one of Arnold Friedman’s former piano students, with whom he spent time one-on-one, has ever come forward with allegations.

Of course, that is aside from the fact that Arnold Friedman, who killed himself in prison by overdosing on depressants two years after Jesse was sentenced, was an admitted pedophile.

He confessed to possessing and circulating child porn, and to sexually assaulting boys on two different occasions while on family vacations. He pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him by Nassau County in hopes that his son would be spared.

Jesse Friedman, who was represented by Massapequa attorney Peter Panaro, was afraid to go to trial in Nassau County. At the screening earlier this month, Jesse Friedman (who now wears a tracking device wherever he goes and is not allowed to leave the borough of Manhattan or live in a building that has children in it) said he was scared that he could not get a fair trial in Nassau County, so he accepted a plea agreement.

His sentence was for six to 16 years, but in the prison-mandated program for sex offenders he refused to admit any wrongdoing. This failure to comply is what kept him in for seven years beyond the minimum sentence he arranged in his plea deal, he said.

At the screening, Jesse Friedman was able to express his thoughts about his father: the award-winning Bayside High chemistry teacher; the man who played Latin jazz under the name Arnito Rey in the ’50s; the father of three; the man who admitted to having sex with his own brother when the two of them shared a bed as children; the man who admitted to having a penchant for little boys.

“Knowing what I know about my dad, he certainly shouldn’t have been surrounding himself with 8-year-old boys,” Jesse Friedman said. “That was a case of bad judgement.”

He added, “It’s not pleasant to have everybody know these things about my dad. I wish it wasn’t true.

“Capturing the Friedmans” will open in New York this weekend and will be featured in a special town-hall style screening May 30 at the Clearview Squire Cinemas in Great Neck. It opens nationwide in June.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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