A man claiming to be a Hasidic Jew who became a social media star after he adopted nine boys has been charged with sexually abusing six of them, according to KPRC2.
Hayim Nissim Cohen, 38, was already out on bond on a prior sexual abuse charge from 2019, the New York Post reported.
Cohen, who lives in Houston, was a popular social media influencer who regularly posted about his “unique family” of nine boys and had around 200,000 followers on TikTok.
However, Houston prosecutor Janna Oswald said during a court hearing that “behind all that is excessive abuse,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
He was initially arrested and charged with sexual assault of a child and continuous abuse of a child. But eight additional charges were added during a court hearing in late February, after the other children came forward, KPRC reported. He now faces a total of 11 charged related to the abuse of his children.
Cohen described himself as a Hasidic Jew originally from Brooklyn. But according to media reports, he was really born Jeffrey Lujan Vejil in Odessa, Texas. He also changed his name multiple times, beginning in 2009 when he claimed he was converting to Judaism.
He also claimed on social media to be a rabbi, according to the Daily Mail.
In February, Cohen was arrested when one of his sons, 17, used a podcast to anonymously report the abuse, the Chronicle reported.
The scared teenager used a burner phone to tell the BlindSkinnedBeauty podcast that he had been sexually abused starting weeks after Cohen adopted him at age 11. He added that his brothers were also victims.
He also said that Child Protective Services had been called to their home eight or more times but had not intervened.
The interview led to a police investigation that resulted in multiple charges against Cohen, who had previously been celebrated on social media, and in newspaper and magazine features.
Six of Cohen’s children, between the ages of 9 and 17, are now in foster care. The other three are still with him and recently attended their father’s court appearance.
Prosecutors accused Cohen of forcing his kids to stay locked in a room all day, only letting them out at 4 p.m., at which point they said the sexual abuse would take place, the Chronicle detailed.
The abuse also took place at a cabin in Odessa, court documents alleged.
One of the boys, who is 16-years-old, said that Cohen would pepper spray him if he refused to comply, Oswald told the judge.
The alleged abuse took place while Cohen was facing a 2019 criminal charge for “indecency with a child” who was a foreign exchange student from Spain, the report said. The exchange student’s lawyer also sued Cohen civilly in the case.
The charge led to a bond condition that barred Cohen from coming within 1,000 feet of any area with children, including schools. But the conditions did not lead to his children being taken away, according to the New York Post.
Besides his popular TikTok postings, Cohen became well known on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook. He told the Jewish Press that his goal was to “ensure that Jewish foster children are placed in Jewish homes.”
He described how “I became a go-to adoption destination for Orthodox boys in the foster care system … a minority within a minority within a minority.”
Oswald charged that Cohen used his supposed religious identify and social media channels to hide the alleged abuse of his adopted children for years.
“Grooming is not just of a child, it’s of the people around the children and the community,” the prosecutor said during a court hearing.