NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four Orthodox Jewish rabbis and one of their sons were indicted on Thursday on charges of kidnapping Jewish men and violently forcing them to grant divorces to their unhappy wives, New Jersey authorities said on Thursday.
Between 2009 and 2013, the rabbis - Mendel Epstein, Martin Wolmark, Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, who also went by “Yaakov” - kidnapped or tried to kidnap men and torture them with beatings and stun guns until they agreed to divorce their wives, according to the indictment filed in New Jersey federal court by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Orthodox Jewish women cannot get a divorce unless their husbands consent through a document known as a “get.” Experts say such kidnapping schemes are responses to so-called “get abuse,” in which husbands demand a larger share of the couple’s communal property before granting the divorce.
The rabbis face up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine for each kidnapping count if found guilty, Fishman said in a statement.
“Rabbi Wolmark did not violate the law and had no part in any criminal conduct that is alleged to have been used to force anyone into granting a get at any time,” attorneys for Wolmark said in a statement.
Undercover FBI agents met Epstein and Wolmark at their home, who told them that a kidnapping would cost a $10,000 payment to a rabbinical court and up to $60,000 more for the “tough guys” who would torture the husbands, court documents show.
“I guarantee you that if you’re in the van, you’d give a get to your wife. You probably love your wife, but you’d give a get when they finish with you,” Epstein told one of the undercover agents posing as the brother of an unhappy wife, at the meeting, according to the indictment.
In the following sting operation, undercover agents accompanied Goldstein and Stimler to a New Jersey warehouse where a kidnapped victim was to be assaulted, the statement said. The rabbis wore bandannas and Halloween masks and brought rope, surgical blades, and a screwdriver to carry out the beating. Authorities arrested them at the warehouse last fall.
In March, two of Goldstein’s sons pleaded guilty to participating in the violent ring.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Ken Wills