SALT LAKE CITY — A nanny accused of abusing an Orthodox rabbi throughout much of his childhood in his family’s Salt Lake City home has been found guilty as charged.
After roughly two hours of deliberation on Friday, a jury returned guilty verdicts against Alavina Fungaihea Florreich, 70. She faces up to life in prison for the five counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony; and two counts of forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony.
Florreich showed little emotion as she was handcuffed Friday and led out of the courtroom, pausing to briefly speak to family members. Outside the courtroom, Rabbi Avrohom “Avremi” Zippel embraced his father — also a rabbi — as both men sobbed.
Prosecutors argued Friday in 3rd District Court that Florreich, now 70, made sure the encounters where she touched the child inappropriately — or he touched her — went undetected at the time, yet admitted to some of them in an interview with Salt Lake City police last year, insisting she was simply responding to the child’s curiosity.
“It’s clearly a huge imbalance of power in this case,” prosecutor Donna Kelly said in her closing argument. “This is a child who was very sheltered. Even as a small child, he was particularly vulnerable.”
Rabbi Zippel, the eldest of six siblings, was homeschooled and raised in a deeply religious family, Kelly said. He originally feared he might die as punishment for participating in the encounters and “has been honest to a fault” about how he sometimes sought out the contact and took steps to prevent anyone from finding out, Kelly told jurors.
Florreich’s defense attorneys argued that in reality, it’s just the opposite.
They said Rabbi Zippel saw an opportunity to become a star of the #MeToo movement and deceived those around him for years before making a delayed report to police that alleged hundreds of instances of abuse from age 8 through his teen years.
“The reason that he came forward is because he wanted to be a #MeToo celebrity,” Florreich’s attorney, Chad Steur, said, noting the rabbi came forward publicly as a victim in a Deseret News article in February.
“Believe me now,” Steur continued. “That’s what he’s saying: ‘Believe me now.’”
Steur needled the police investigation and questioned the reliability of a 2018 phone call taped by police in which Florreich tells the rabbi over a poor connection that she remembers some of their interactions.
There was nothing sexual involved in his client’s decision to touch the boy at times, he said, emphasizing that Florreich was “trying to survive.”
”Does she have that intent to gratify his sexual arousal? She has the intent to maintain her employment, first of all.”
Florreich, originally of Tonga but a longtime Utah resident, wore a red jacket and a purple hairpiece, sitting quietly as she listened to the arguments through a Tongan interpreter.
She did not testify in her own defense during the trial.
Sentencing is scheduled for January 13.