A Texas man who claimed to be a Hasidic Jew from New York and made a name for himself on social media with his “unique family” of nine adopted boys has been charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
Hayim Nissim Cohen, born Jeffrey Lujan Vejil, was arrested last month after one of the boys called an advice podcast and told the host he had been abused and raped by his adopted father since shortly after the adoption was finalize, according to the Times of Israel.
“I became concerned immediately and just like I had to do something. That was my immediate feeling,” said one of the hosts of BlindSkinnedBeauty, Twaiyah Paynes. “I said, ‘We’ve got to keep this kid talking, we’ve got to keep him on the phone.’”
The hosts brought a former law enforcement officer onto the call and tried to persuade the boy to call police, but he said he was afraid. He said he was using a “burner” phone and making a WiFi call to hide his identity.
According to court documents, Paynes reported the call to authorities, who used IP address tracking to find that the call came from Cohen’s home in Harris County. The 17-year-old boy initially denied making the call but admitted he had when investigators played the recording of the call from him, KTRK reported.
As police investigated, more of the children reported abuse.
According to the criminal complaint, the children said their father beat them with a belt, sprayed them with pepper spray, and threatened them with further injury and death.
Six of the boys were still minors — ages 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17 — and they were transferred to foster care, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said.
In court last week, prosecutor Janna Oswald said officials had investigated claims of abuse over the years but never had enough evidence to charge Cohen.
“This was a household of boys that were extremely abused and neglected, groomed. They were threatened. They were in fear of their safety,” Oswald said. “That mask, along with the children’s inability to find their voice yet, allowed the abuse to go on for a long time.”
The 17-year-old said in the charging documents that “everything (Cohen) does is fake.”
“The (teen) stated that (Cohen) only uses his wheelchair when people come over or when he is in public,” the document says. “The (teen) stated that (Cohen) has six oxygen tanks and does not use them and that (Cohen) only coughs uncontrollably when he is in court.”
According to the Times, Cohen was out on bail after being charged with felony indecency related to allegations that he abused a Spanish exchange student in 2018. That bail was revoked when he was arrested last month.
‘Ted Bundy-level sociopath’
Cohen chronicled his family’s “ultra-Orthodox Jewish” life with two TikTok channels, a YouTube channel, and a Facebook page. Some of the boys also had social media accounts, the Times reported. His social media presence got him lots of attention from local media, but the Times uncovered evidence that little of what he said was true.
Although he claimed he grew up Hasidic in New York, he was born in Odessa, Texas, in 1984 and graduated high school there. He legally changed his name several times in 2009 and 2010, finally settling on Hayim Nissim Cohen. Court documents say he used “many different names and aliases,” including Chaim Nissim Vejil, Gabriel Jeffrey Vejil, and Gabriel Rosenburg.
The Times found no evidence that he converted to Judaism, other than saying that he did when he filed to change his name in court. The Times says that the name “Cohen” denotes priestly heritage and is not meant to be used by an Orthodox convert.
A New York-based group that tracks sexual abuse in Orthodox communities, Za’akah, first noted discrepancies in Cohen’s stories, the Times said. While Cohen claimed that all of his adopted sons were born Jewish, an attorney who reviewed the adoption records said none of them were.
“He would profess to be a rabbi and said he adopted all these Jewish children from other Jewish families. He said the first two kids were Jewish and their parents died in an automobile accident,” Chandler, who is representing the Spanish exchange student said. “They’re not Jewish, the dad committed suicide and the mother had her parental rights terminated due to drugs, alcohol and neglect.”
“He changed their names in the adoption process and had them grow their hair and dressed them. He claims they speak Hebrew or Yiddish but I don’t think any of them do,” she said. “He’s clearly not a rabbi. I think he woke up one day and said, ‘I’m Jewish,’ and went to Dallas County and had his name changed.”
Members of Houston’s Orthodox Jewish community were skeptical. One, who asked to remain anonymous, said he claimed to have been rescued from Yemen and moved to Houston for medical treatment. That person said he claimed to have grown up speaking Yiddish but couldn’t converse with a Yiddish speaker.
“He showed up and claimed some references and assumed no one would check. One of the rabbis checked the references in New York and it didn’t check out,” he said.
“He had obviously done a ton of research but I just got kind of a weird vibe about it,” said the community member, adding that he was “very intelligent, very conniving, very manipulative” and “a Ted Bundy-level sociopath.”
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[Featured image: Hayim Nissim Cohen/Harris County District Attorney’s Office]
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