From the New York Times
U.S. Accuses 2 Rabbis of Kidnapping Husbands for a Fee
In Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, Mendel Epstein made a name for himself as the rabbi to see for women struggling to divorce their husbands. Among the Orthodox, a divorce requires the husband’s permission, known as a “get,” and tales abound of women whose husbands refuse to consent.
While it’s common for rabbis to take action against defiant husbands, such as barring them from synagogue life, Rabbi Epstein, 68, took matters much further, according to the authorities.
For hefty fees, he orchestrated the kidnapping and torture of reluctant husbands, charging their wives as much as $10,000 for a rabbinical decree permitting violence and $50,000 to hire others to carry out the deed, according to federal charges unsealed on Thursday morning.
Rabbi Epstein, along with another rabbi, Martin Wolmark, who is the head of a yeshiva, as well as several men in what the authorities called the “kidnap team,” appeared in Federal District Court in Trenton after a sting operation in which an undercover federal agent posed as an Orthodox Jewish woman soliciting Rabbi Epstein’s services.
Paul Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey, said in an interview that investigators have “uncovered evidence” of about a couple dozen victims. Many are men from Brooklyn who were taken to New Jersey as part of the kidnappings.
In court, the lead prosecutor in the case, R. Joseph Gribko, explained how the abductions were carried out. “They beat them up, tied them up, shocked them with Tasers and stun guns until they got what they want,” Mr. Gribko, an assistant United States attorney, said.
Mr. Gribko said the defendants had been motivated by money, not faith. While the case might surprise some New Yorkers, accounts of such kidnappings have percolated through the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn for years. In 1996, for instance, a rabbinic council in Williamsburg issued a statement denouncing the rogue men who subjected husbands to such beatings, according to a news report.
Rabbi Epstein was sued in the late 1990s by another Brooklyn rabbi, Abraham Rubin, who claimed that a group of men shoved him into a van as he left synagogue, hooded him, and applied electric shocks to his genitals in an effort to force him to provide a get to his wife. The lawsuit was dismissed.
According to newspaper accounts from the late 90s, other men, too, have come forward with similar tales of curbside abductions and mistreatment.
How such violent practices, if proved, would have been able to persist for so long may be an indicator of the challenges that local law enforcement agencies face in trying conduct nvestigations of insular religious groups including the ultra-Orthodox.
Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times
Rabbi Epstein seemed confident that local authorities wouldn’t investigate too closely. In a recorded meeting with the female undercover F.B.I. agent, Rabbi Epstein explained that his preferred torture techniques, like electric shocks, offered little physical evidence of abuse, according to the complaint. Without obvious visible injuries, Rabbi Epstein said, the police were unlikely to inquire too deeply if any victims came forward.
“Basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him then, uh, is there some Jewish crazy affair here, they don’t want to get involved,” Rabbi Epstein explained, according to the criminal complaint.
Rabbi Epstein made his living appearing before the rabbinical courts, known as beit din, where he advocated on behalf of a spouse seeking an exit, another rabbi said. He took a special interest in the constraints that wives faced, speaking about the rights of women in terms not often heard in his deeply conservative community.
New York Today
When two undercover F.B.I. agents — one posing as a woman seeking a divorce, the other as her brother — asked a rabbi for help, the rabbi explained how Rabbi Epstein might be able to assist them.
“You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,” Rabbi Martin Wolmark, a respected figure who presides over a yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y., said in a recorded telephone call on Aug. 7. He described Rabbi Epstein as “a hired hand” who could help, according to the criminal complaint in the case.
When the undercover agents met with Rabbi Epstein a week later, he said that he was confident he could secure a get once his “tough guys” had made their threats.
“I guarantee you that if you’re in the van, you’d give a get to your wife,” he said to the male undercover agent posing as the brother. “You probably love your wife, but you’d give a get when they finish with you.”
The undercover female F.B.I. agent told Rabbi Epstein that she wanted to divorce her husband, described as a businessman in South America, who refused to grant her request. Rabbi Epstein urged her to lure the man to New Jersey, which she pledged to do.
Next Rabbi Epstein and Rabbi Wolmark convened their own rabbinical court, complete with legalisms and formalities, to issue a religious edict “authorizing the use of violence to obtain a forced get,” according to court records. The undercover agent offered testimony before the two rabbis, who were joined by other religious figures.
Told that the husband was arriving in New Jersey, eight of Rabbi Epstein’s associates met at a New Jersey warehouse to finalize the kidnapping plan, according to court documents. At that point F.B.I. agents moved in to arrest the group. The agents seized masks, ropes, scalpels and feather quills and ink bottles used for recording the get they anticipated.
On Thursday, the 10 defendants were denied bail after appearing in court in Trenton on the kidnapping conspiracy charges.
Juda J. Epstein, the lawyer for Rabbi Epstein, declined to comment.
A neighbor, Rose Davis, who lives opposite his home in the Kensington section of Brooklyn described him as a respected figure. Ms. Davis said she was skeptical of the charges, and suggested they might be the concoctions of enemies he had made as an expert in divorce work: “There’s always a loser,” she said, referring to divorce cases.Jon Hurdle and Alex Vadukul contributed reporting. Susan Beachy and Jack Begg contributed research.
A version of this article appears in print on October 11, 2013, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S.
Rabbi sentenced to jail in extortion-for-divorce case
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on December 14, 2015 at 4:45 PM, updated December 16, 2015 at 4:38 PM
TRENTON -- An Orthodox rabbi who admitted plotting to force a man to grant a divorce to his wife under threats of violence will spend up to 38 months in jail, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Monday.
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson on Monday sentenced Martin Wolmark, 56, who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit extortion in January.
In addition to the prison term, Wolfson ordered Wolmark to serve two years of supervised release and pay a $50,000 fine.
He had faced up to five years in prison.
Wolmark is one of several rabbis and individuals who will be before federal judges this week in connection with the case.
The case started with a conversation in August 2013, during which a woman and her brother asked Wolmark about obtaining the divorce from her husband.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Wolmark said it could be done, possibly by violence. He recommended that they speak to his colleague, Rabbi Mendel Epstein of Brooklyn, whom he said had previously forcibly coerced divorces from recalcitrant husbands.
On Oct. 13, 2013, Wolmark had masked co-conspirators meet at an Edison warehouse where they intended to force the husband to grant a "get," or religious divorce.
Brooklyn rabbi found guilty in divorce case. Epstein, a prominent rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings, was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and beating of Orthodox Jewish men to force them to grant their wives religious divorces.
But Wolmark and the co-conspirators didn't know that the woman who had come to him for helping in securing the grant for divorce was an undercover FBI agent. So was her "brother."
According to prosecutors, Wolmark told them it would cost $30,000 to get the job done.
He said some "tough guys" would use cattle prods and karate on the handcuffed husband.
Joining him at the warehouse, prosecutors said, were Jay Goldstein, 61, Moshe Goldstein, 32, Avrohom Goldstein, 36, Simcha Bulmash, 32, Binyamin Stimler, 40, David Hellman, 33, and Sholom Shuchat, 31, all of Brooklyn, and Ariel Potash, 42, of Monsey, N.Y.
Avrohom Goldstein, Potash, Shuchat, Moshe Goldstein, Hellman, and Bulmash pleaded guilty to one count of traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion, the office said. Avrohom Goldstein and Potash were sentenced Nov. 19, to 45 and 14 months in prison, respectively, the U.S. Attorney's Ofiice said.
Shuchat was sentenced to time served on Nov. 19. Moshe Goldstein was sentenced Nov. 16, to 48 months in prison. Hellman and Bulmash were sentenced Nov. 17, to 44 and 48 months in prison, respective.
Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Stimler were convicted at trial April 21, the office said. Epstein, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Stimler, convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping also is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Jay Goldstein, also convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping, is scheduled to be sentenced.
Tim Darragh may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timdarragh. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Rabbi pleads guilty in violent plot to coerce divorce
An administrator at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, N.Y., asks the media to leave the school’s parking lot the morning after an FBI raid at the school.(Photo: Peter Carr, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News)WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — An Orthodox Jewish rabbi admitted Wednesday to traveling interstate to use threats of violence to force a man to give his wife a religious divorce.
Martin "Mordechai" Wolmark — along with Rabbi Mendel Epstein, a prominent ultra-Orthodox divorce mediator from Brooklyn — had been accused of heading a gang of eight thugs who used cattle prods and other devices to torture men into giving their wives a get, a document a woman must obtain from her husband should she seek a divorce under Jewish law.
On Wednesday, Wolmark, 56, appeared in a federal courtroom in Trenton, N.J., and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to commit extortion, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in a statement.
[FBI arrests N.Y. rabbis in Jewish divorce-gang probe]
Citing court documents, Fishman presented a timeline of the Monsey, N.Y., rabbi's involvement in the plot.
On Aug. 7, 2013, Wolmark, then head of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah on West Carlton Road in Suffern, met with a Jewish woman and her brother about obtaining a get from the woman's husband. The rabbi told the pair, who were working undercover with the FBI, that they should meet Epstein. Wolmark then set up a conference call between the undercover agents and Epstein.
On Oct. 2, 2013, Wolmark, with Epstein present, convened a beth din, or a rabbinical court, in his Suffern office to determine whether there were grounds under Jewish law to coerce the husband into giving a get. Epstein, unaware the female agent was recording the meeting, openly discussed the plan to kidnap and assault the husband to obtain the document, Fishman said.
A week later, on Oct. 9, the muscle of the gang, including Ariel Potash of Monsey, traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, N.J., intent on using violent force to coerce the get, Fishman said. Instead, the men were arrested. Authorities seized several items, including masks, rope, surgical blades, plastic bags and a screwdriver. Raids also were conducted at the West Carlton Road yeshiva and at Epstein's Brooklyn home.
Wolmark, who is scheduled to be sentenced on May 18, faces up to five years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
In a statement Wednesday, Benjamin Brafman, Wolmark's defense lawyer, called his client an "extraordinary man" who is dedicated to assisting others.
"Rabbi Martin Wolmark has agreed to accept responsibility for his limited participation in a conspiracy," Brafman said.
A man who answered the telephone at Wolmark's home in Monsey quickly hung up Wednesday after learning that a reporter was seeking comment on the guilty plea. Subsequent calls were not answered.
Fishman said six others, most of whom hail from Brooklyn, have already pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with the plot.
Rabbi Eidensohn comments here: Below we find a document of some rabbis attacking Mr. Aharon Friedman for not giving his wife a GET. One signer, Herschel Schachter, is known to encourage beatings for husbands who don’t want to give their wives a GET. He has been known to tell people to kill those who disagree with his philosophy. One such person was a very senior Israeli politician who wanted to make peace with the Arabs. These “rabbis” have a very interesting “Torah”. End comment.
DECLARATION OF CONTEMPT
(translation from original)
On the 26th of Sivan 5771 the Beth Din of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis
of the United States and Canada issued a "Final Warning" to Mr. Aharon
Friedman wherein the history of the matter between him and his wife Tamar
Epstein was summarized and particular reference was made to his
continued and repeated refusal to give her a get in accordance with Jewish
law. He was requested to appear before the Beth Din for a final adjudication
on the matter of his refusal as well as other matters but he refused to even
respond to their request.
Several Gedolei Yisroel have spoken to him about this matter and he has
previously received subpoenas to a Beth Din, letters, and other requests both
formal and informal but to the dismay of the Beth Din he has ignored them
all and turned a deaf ear to their pleas.
The Beth Din is therefore left with no other alternative but to declare him in
"Contempt of Beth Din" and to regard him as "One who does not heed
Jewish law" – as such status is described in Shulchan Aruch etc.
Any person who has the ability or opportunity to influence him to free Tamar
Epstein from the chains of her agunah status is obligated to do so and doing so will
indeed be the fulfillment of a great mitzvah. Tamar Epstein is hereby granted
permission to take whatever appropriate steps are necessary to extricate herself
from the chains of this agunah status.
Accordingly we have affixed our signatures this 9th day of Elul 5771
s/ Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag
s/ Rabbi Yisroel Belsky
s/ Rabbi Mordechai Wolmark
s/ Rabbi Gavriel Stern
s/ Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
The words of the revered rabbis, signatories above, do not need any further
endorsement, and certainly the entire community should urge the husband to
give his wife a Jewish divorce.
s/ Rabbi Hershel Schachter END QUOTE OF DOCUMENT SIGNED ABOVE
Comment by Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn – Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky is involved with the wife of Aharon Friedman and he and his son arranged for the lies about Aharon that he was hopelessly remote from marriage and therefore his marriage to Tamar was invalid. The greatest rabbis in the world wrote signed papers that the claims of the Kaminetsys were ridiculous. Aharon has an excellent job and reputation in Congress. Rabbis Wolmark and Ralbag were involved with the Trenton Beth Din that sent many rabbis and others to jail for kidnapping and torturing husbands who would not give a GET to their wives. Ralbag was forced to testify with his knowledge of these criminal actions. Wolmark went to jail. Herschel Schachter has a statement on tape calling for beating husbands who don’t give a GET and possibly worse.
These were rabbis with prominent positions in the community. Wolmark was the head of a Yeshiva in Monsey. Ralbag was the Chief Rabbi of a European country. Shmuel Kaminetsky is the head of the Philadelphia Yeshiva. Herschel Schachter is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and the head of the Kashruse Division of the OU. And yet all of them signed a paper to attack Aharon Friedman in defiance of the Beth Din of Baltimore who has the case after Aharon and his wife signed for them to control their marital dispute. Why did these other people get involved? Obviously, they are people who think they can do whatever they please. And this must stop.
The rest of us who are still in shock at the sight of so many senior rabbis in jail, must realize that times have changed. A lot of people who are the worst criminals are now prominent rabbis, head of Yeshivas, etc. The few of us who are not going to tolerate this, must plan how to deal with it.
The last few weeks I have received phone calls from prominent rabbis about terrible travesties being done in their communities to violate the Torah.
We can ignore it, or we can fight back. “MI LAHASHEM AILEI!”
The Chofetz Chaim once said to a Rov badly outnumbered by his secular community, “HaShem is the strongest.” If we trust in Him and honor his Torah, there is hope, definitely so.
End comment by Rabbi Eidensohn.