updated 6/13/2006 12:23:06 PM ET 2006-06-13T16:23:06

The former cantor of a prominent New York synagogue pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a young relative starting when the boy was 3 years old.

Howard Nevison, 65, entered a plea agreement Monday after fighting the charges for four years. He acknowledged the assaults occurred when he visited Philadelphia relatives but did not admit to all of the prosecution’s allegations.

“The reason we reached this agreement was that the family felt that it was in the victim’s best interest,” First Assistant Prosecutor Risa V. Ferman said. Prosecutors felt they could win the case at trial, but feared the appeals would go on for years.

Nevison, the longtime cantor at Congregation Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, faces up to 19 years in prison but could get probation, she said. He was put on leave in 2003 by the Reform synagogue, which has many prominent members.

Nevison pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of assault, terroristic threats, corruption of minors and child endangerment, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Under the agreement, felony counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse will be dismissed at sentencing.

The attacks continued from 1993 until 1997, when the boy was 7. Two other relatives have served time for sexually assaulting the same boy.

The victim testified against the cantor during an April 2002 preliminary hearing, describing four separate attacks.

“He was strong and powerful and I was defenseless,” the boy testified.

His parents issued a brief statement Monday saying they were pleased that their son would avoid the further trauma of a trial.

Defense lawyer Ralph Jacobs declined comment.

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