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U-M professor, student involved in sex case

Both plead no contest after hotel encounter
Friday, December 12, 2008
The Ann Arbor News

The University of Michigan is investigating one of its associate professors accused of paying a U-M Law School student for sexual acts after meeting her online, officials said.

Yaron Eliav, 44, an associate professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, awaits sentencing Dec. 30 after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of using a computer to commit a crime. The 22-year-old student also pleaded no contest to the same charge.

They were originally charged with prostitution/accosting and solicitation, misdemeanors punishable by up to 93 days in jail.

The case came to light in April when the student went to an Ann Arbor police station to report she was assaulted by Eliav after they met at a hotel on the city's north side.

The student told police she was advertising sex acts online via Craigslist to help pay tuition costs. For an in-state student, U-M Law School tuition is $41,500 a year; out-of-state students pay $44,500.

The student told police she reluctantly agreed to allow Eliav to strike her buttocks with a belt, but got upset when he slapped her in the face twice, reports said. She said she suffered vision problems afterward, but did not have any lasting injuries.

The rarity of how the case began - with a law student showing up at the police department's front desk to report she was assaulted while committing a crime herself - was not lost on investigators.

"Perhaps she should have cracked a legal textbook before coming in to the police station to talk about this,'' Ann Arbor Detective Sgt. Richard Kinsey said.

Both she and Eliav told police they didn't have intercourse, but engaged in other sex acts, and he paid her $300, according to police reports.

When he was interviewed by police, Eliav said he responded to the online ad because he was interested in experimenting sexually. He said he complied when she told him to stop certain activities and admitted to slapping her face, but said it was "like a game,'' reports said.

Eliav also called the woman a willing participant and said they hugged at the end of the encounter, reports said.

It appears Eliav knew the woman was a law school student, but it not clear from the police reports whether he knew that going into the encounter. He told investigators the money he paid the woman was simply "a token,'' and called her "a bored college student.''

Gary Beckman, chairman of U-M's Near Eastern Studies Department, declined to comment Tuesday and referred questions to U-M spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham.

Cunningham said Eliav is the subject of an internal university investigation, but she couldn't provide additional details.

"We take this matter very seriously,'' Cunningham said.

Eliav joined the university in 2000 and is still on the faculty, she said. U-M records show Eliav is a tenured professor who received his doctorate from Hebrew University and came to U-M after working as a senior fellow in the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University.

The law school is also reviewing the matter, said Cunningham, adding that student confidentiality rules prevent her from saying more.

When reached about a month ago, the student would not comment, and she couldn't be reached this week. Her attorney called the charges against her offensive and declined further comment.

Eliav's attorney, Doug Mulkoff, said Thursday that he requested a deferred sentence from prosecutors. If granted, the case would eventually be dismissed as long as Eliav meets certain conditions.

The conviction carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail. A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.

"He denies any wrongdoing but pled no contest to quickly resolve this private matter,'' Mulkoff said.

Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Burke said prosecutors have not made any agreements with Eliav or the student. Court records indicate the student also sought a deferred sentence.

Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller said prosecutors didn't charge Eliav with assault because they didn't feel they could prove that crime.

"In order to prove a case of assault and battery, you have to prove (nonconsensual) physical contact beyond a reasonable doubt, and based on the circumstances, we did not feel we could prove that,'' Hiller said.

Police reports also indicate the student admitted to arranging money-for-sex deals with about eight or nine men in April and May, saying she needed the money for tuition.

The student said she advertised online and got to her appointments using hourly rental cars available on campus through Zipcar, according to police reports.

University policy strongly discourages - but does not prohibit - a professor from engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a student. If a professor supervises the student, the professor's superior has to draw up a plan to manage the conflict of interest, such as having the student taught by another professor.