Hayim Nissim Cohen, a Houston rabbi who gained fame on social media for adopting nine boys as a single father, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and continuous sex abuse of a child under 17 years old in February 2023 after one of his sons called into a podcast to report the abuse.
The 17-year-old boy alleged Cohen had abused several of his brothers and threatened to kill them if they ever revealed the abuse.
Six of Cohen’s children were since removed from the home and placed in protective care.
It was not the first time Cohen had been accused of assault. He was out on bond over a 2019 case in which he was accused of sexual contact by a student staying with Cohen during an exchange program from Spain.
Cohen has also been accused of faking his Jewish heritage and posing as being disabled while in public.
The unnamed boy called into a podcast recording on February 1, accused Cohen of sexual misconduct, and used the word ‘rape’ to describe the abuse he said he had experienced since he was adopted at 11.
He said he used a burner phone to avoid detection from Cohen and was planning to wait until he was 18 to report the abuse to the police.
The podcasters later called the police, who were able to trace the phone and went to see the boy. Initially, he denied he had made the accusations but later admitted he was the one who made the call and told police he was ‘not brave enough to say anything’ about the abuse. According to ABC 7, he eventually became visibly scared, shaking, and held his head down when police played him a recording of the call.
The chief prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Crimes Against Children Division, Janna Oswald, detailed some of the allegations against Cohen to the Houston Chronicle, saying he would allegedly lock the boys in a room for long stretches of the day, then force them to engage in sexual acts when he released them.
Oswald alleged Cohen intentionally used the guise of religion and a facade on social media to hide his true nature and crimes.
On social media, Cohen and his family would showcase their religious lifestyle, and the adoptive patriarch advocated for single men to adopt children. However, some accused Cohen of fabricating that religious lifestyle and background.
In numerous interviews, Cohen talked about being raised in the Hasidic community in New York City, where he said he spoke Yiddish and became a Rabbi. But records showed he was, in fact, from Odessa, Texas, and that his real name was Jeffrey Lujan Vejil, according to Reduxx.
On social media and in public, Cohen often appeared in a wheelchair and wearing an oxygen mask. His adoptive sons said even that was a fabrication, with one boy telling KTRK ‘everything [Cohen] does is fake.’ The attorney representing the exchange student Cohen was accused of molesting in 2019 told ABC13 the charges against him were no surprise. ‘There were so many red flags,’ said Sherry Chandler.
‘We all suspected (Cohen) is a pedophile. You don’t just start one day. We all suspected the other kids were getting abused.’ In that case, the student complained to Sharpstown High School about Cohen’s behavior. The student is suing Cohen and the group that placed him at his house, according to ABC 13.