2013 New York divorce torture plot
|2013 New York divorce torture plot|
|Part of racketeering|
Borough Park neighborhood of New York City in October 2013. Location of Abraham Rubin kidnapping
|Planned by||Federal Bureau of Investigation|
|Objective||Shut down get extortion and kidnapping ring|
|Date||October 9, 2013|
|Outcome||Arrests and convictions|
The 2013 New York divorce torture plot was a sting operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation against a gang that had been kidnapping Jewish men and torturing them into granting their wives gets (religious divorces). It began with the apprehension of Rabbi David Wax, and culminated in the arrest of a group of rabbis from New York under the direction of Mendel Epstein, including Jay Goldstein, Binyamin Stimler, and Martin Wolmark, who were involved in the planned kidnapping and torture of a fictitious Jewish husband in Middlesex County, New Jersey, with the purpose of obtaining from him a get. Epstein and his men were found guilty of attempted kidnapping in 2015, and were sentenced to prison, while Epstein's son, David Epstein, was acquitted.
A Jewish man is allowed to divorce his wife for virtually any reason by first receiving her permission, and then giving her a get. If she is unwilling, and his complaint against her is substantial, he can pursue a heter meah rabbanim and remarry, although one is rarely awarded.
|“||You have to watch the man, what his habits are, where he goes, how and where you can grab him. If you have a plan, then you call the people who do the kidnapping... There is such a thing called a stun gun, and they put such a tape or something so that it shouldn't leave a mark on the surface. They administer electric shocks and it's not a dangerous thing that can damage or kill.||”|
|— Epstein co-conspirator Jay Goldstein describing the gang's abduction and torture methods during a recorded phone call on December 28, 1996.|
A Jewish woman seeking a divorce from her husband must present her complaint to a beth din with the implication of a serious physical blemish or character defect. The husband must be willing to divorce his wife, for if he gives the get unwillingly, the divorce is invalid, and any future offspring of the wife would be considered mamzers. If the circumstances truly warrant a divorce and the husband is unwilling, the dayan has the prerogative of instituting community shunning measures to "coerce him until he agrees," with physical force being reserved only for the rarest of cases.
It was in this grey area of halakha that in the mid-1980s a rabbi from Brooklyn, New York, Mendel Epstein, began to advocate for women seeking religious divorces from their husbands. Dubbed The Prodfather by the press due to his boast of using a cattle prod against his victims, Epstein started a divorce-gang which coerced these men to give the gets through the use of violence. Although U.S. laws prohibit kidnapping, assault, and torture, some rabbis have gone on record anonymously to sanction these otherwise "inhumane" acts against "angry husbands." If a man got so scared from this treatment as to suffer a heart attack, Epstein would instruct his gang to "Take a right turn and let him die."
- Abraham Rubin: On October 23, 1996 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Rubin was shoved into a van, beaten and stun-gunned in his genitals until he agreed to give his wife a get. After his 3-hour ordeal, he was left bruised, bloodied, handcuffed and blindfolded at the entrance to a cemetery. Charges were dropped against his attackers by Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes in 2000, after Rubin "could not identify any of his assailants."[dead link]
- Stephen Weiss: An accountant, Weiss came forward in 1998, alleging that his jaw, leg, and arm were broken in 1992 by members of a ring run by Epstein and Martin Wolmark, but no arrests were made. Newsday interviewed an additional dozen residents of Borough Park and Midwood, Brooklyn, all of whom claimed that they were harassed, threatened, or assaulted by men working for their estranged wives. Hynes agreed to look into the charges but, despite pressure from the victims, declined to prosecute.
|“||They forced [the get] on me. They busted my fingers, busted my ribs. They kept me handcuffed. These gets aren't kosher. They force it. It destroyed me.||”|
|— Epstein victim, identified only as Mr. Goldstein from Midwood, Brooklyn.|
- Israel Markowitz: On December 1, 2009, Markowitz was lured from Brooklyn to Lakewood Township, New Jersey under the pretense of receiving employment at a document shredding establishment. Markowitz was then assaulted, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get.
- Yisrael Bryskman: On October 16, 2010, Bryskman, an Israeli citizen, was lured from New York to the Lakewood home of David Wax, an accomplice of Epstein, where he was promised employment as a typist of Talmudic texts. Bryskman entered Wax's home shortly before midnight, was shown into a second-story bedroom, and was immediately punched in the face, breaking his nose. He was then forced to the floor, blindfolded, handcuffed, and ankle-tied. A pool of blood appeared on the carpet, ruining it. Wax, who wore a cowboy hat during the attack, presented Bryskman with a body bag, "to get [you] used to the size." He was then kicked in the ribs, burned with acid, and threatened to be urinated upon, fed to rats, and buried alive, until he agreed to give his wife a get. Wax was paid $100,000 from the wife's family for the document, half of which went to Epstein, and he attempted to extort an additional $50,000 from Bryskman's father in Israel over the phone, threatening that if he didn't comply, he'd receive a "special gift - it's called a bullet...in your head."
- Usher Chaimowitz and Menachem Teitelbaum: On August 22, 2011, in Brooklyn, Chaimowitz and his roommate Teitelbaum were assaulted, tied up, and beaten for two hours until Chaimowitz agreed to give his wife a get. Teitelbaum was punched in the face, had four of his teeth knocked out, his head pushed through a wall, and his mouth stuffed with dirty socks when he tried to scream for help. When he asked why they were beating him, seeing that Chaimowitz was the one they were after, one of his attackers quoted the Talmudic dictum, "Woe to the evildoer, woe to his neighbor."
Wax implicates Epstein
In October 2010, David Wax and his wife Judy were arrested for their part in the Bryskman kidnapping, and Wax subsequently agreed to testify as a government witness, claiming Epstein was the head of the operation and that his son David was present in the bedroom during the Bryskman beating. Their relationship dated back to the 1980s, when Epstein had forced a divorce for Wax's sister. The Bryskman case was what led federal authorities in New Jersey to begin their investigation of Mendel Epstein for his role in the crime.
FBI sting operation
In the summer of 2013, a woman dialed Martin Wolmark, an accomplice of Epstein, and told him a story about a husband who refused to give her a get. Wolmark said:
You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end...getting a guy like Mendel Epstein who's a hired hand...You need to get him to New York where someone either could harass him or nail him, plain and simple.
On August 14, 2013, she visited Epstein in Lakewood with another man she said was her brother. Epstein said to the two visitors:
This is an expensive thing to do. Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the get.
The man then asked about Epstein's effectiveness, to which he replied:
Wait a minute here. 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. Hopefully, there won't even be a mark on him. We prefer not to leave a mark. Because then when you do, they do go to the police, the police look at the guy. . . and basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him, then, 'Is there some Jewish crazy affair here?' They don't get involved.
Epstein explained he would need $10,000 to approve the coercion at the beth din, and $60,000 for the "tough guys", who would use karate, rope, a screwdriver, and plastic bags over the men's heads to get them to cooperate. And if all else fails, then:
We take an electric cattle prod. If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move, you put it in certain parts of the body and in one minute the guy will know.
Epstein also told the woman that he would not be present at the attack, planning instead to be out and about, and suggested that she do the same, explaining that being seen in public would provide them with an alibi.
On October 9, 2013, 8 men wearing Halloween masks, ski masks, and bandanas – one wore a Metallica T-shirt on top of his clothes – came to a warehouse in Middlesex County, New Jersey, where they flexed and shadow-boxed as they waited for their prey, the 'recalcitrant husband' who did not exist. Suddenly, federal agents burst in and arrested the would-be kidnappers. Epstein was arrested separately in Brooklyn.
During a federal court hearing the following day in Trenton, New Jersey, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko told a judge, "They didn't do it out of religious conviction. They did it for money."
On May 6, 2014, Wax pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He named the men arrested the previous October as his accomplices.
The trial of the main defendants commenced on February 18, 2015 at the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Trenton. On April 21, they appeared before District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, whereupon Mendel Epstein was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, while accomplices Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler were additionally convicted of attempted kidnapping. David Epstein was acquitted, in part by defence attorney Henry Mazurek's contention that David was in a business meeting in Cincinnati during Usher Chaimowitz's beating.
On December 14, Martin Wolmark, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion, was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison. The next day, at his own sentencing, Mendel Epstein told the judge:
Over the years, I guess, I got caught up in my tough guy image. Truthfully, it helped me – the reputation – convince many of these reprobates to do the right thing."
Epstein and Stimler were sentenced to 10 years and 3 years respectively. Wolfson said during the proceeding that "No one is permitted to commit acts of violence against another," and that the sentence was necessary in order to deter others in the Orthodox Jewish community from engaging in similar paid vigilantism.
On January 12, 2016, David Wax was sentenced by Wolfson to 7 years imprisonment.
Rabbinical judge David Eidensohn of Monsey, New York said, "I'm shocked that people who call themselves rabbis would get involved in coercion." According to Eidensohn, if a woman obtains a get in such a manner and remarries, "her marriage is not legal and she would be considered living in sin. If she has children, the children are considered born out of wedlock, and that's considered a disgrace in the community."
Samuel Heilman, professor of sociology and Jewish studies at Queens College said, "Using force, that's the way it used to be done centuries ago. Most Jews don't operate like that anymore, but in this community... it's a sort of fundamentalist view."
Moshe David Tendler, rabbi and professor of medical ethics at Yeshiva University said, "The idea that a beth din can issue an order for coercion is baloney, a hoax." While conceding that he had "been with [Epstein] on matters," Tendler nevertheless considered him "unreliable."
- Loder, Stephanie (May 15, 2014) "Stun Guns Forced Orthodox Divorce, Prosecutors Say", Asbury Park Press
- Mullen, Shannon (April 21, 2015) "Rabbi Guilty of Kidnapping Conspiracy, Jury Finds", Asbury Park Press
- "Judaism 101: Divorce". www.jewfaq.org.
- Samaha, Albert (December 4, 2013) "Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community", The Village Voice
- Malinowitz, Chaim; "The New York State Get Bill and its Halachic Ramifications"; Jewish Law Articles
- Goldstein, Joseph; Schwirtz, Michael (October 11, 2013) "Rabbis Said to Use Torture For Fee to Force Divorce", The New York Times[dead link]
- Bandler, Jonathan; Lieberman, Steve (October 10, 2013) "FBI Arrests N.Y. Rabbis in Jewish Divorce-gang Probe, USA Today
- Dickter, Adam (October 16, 2013) "Accused Kidnap Rabbi Known For ‘Wild West’ Rules", The New York Jewish Week
- Mullen, Shannon (December 15, 2015) "10-year Sentence for Lakewood 'Prodfather' Rabbi", Asbury Park Press
- Ben-Gedalyahu, Tzvi (October 10, 2013) "FBI Arrests NY Rabbis for Beating Husbands Who Refuse Divorce", Jewish Press
- Blau, Reuven (April 22, 2015) "N.J. Jury Finds Orthodox Rabbi Guilty of Kidnap-Divorce Plot, New York Daily News
- Saul, Josh; Italiano, Laura (October 11, 2013) "Rabbis beat me, stun-gunned my genitals", New York Post
- Shaer, Matthew (September 2, 2014) "Epstein Orthodox Hit Squad", GQ
- Yaniv, Oren (October 11, 2013). "Rabbi Tortured Jewish Husbands to Divorce:Feds", New York Daily News
- Samaha, Albert (May 23, 2014) "Indictment Officially Ties Rabbis to Three Divorce Extortion Kidnappings", The Village Voice
- Gecan, Alex N. (July 2, 2016) "Inside Lakewood's Controversial Watch Group", Asbury Park Press
- U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey (December 15, 2015). "Two Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Sentenced To Prison For Conspiring To Kidnap Jewish Husbands, Force Them To Consent To Religious Divorces".
- Hutchinson, Bill (May 6, 2014) "N.J. Rabbi Pleads Guilty to Violent Scheme to Force a Jewish Divorce", New York Daily News
- Jones, Abigail (April 8, 2015) "In Orthodox Jewish Divorce, Men Hold All the Cards", Newsweek
- Spoto, MaryAnn (March 2, 2015) "'Give A Divorce,' Attackers Yelled As They Beat Men, Victim Testifies In Lakewood Rabbi Trial", NJ.com
- Spoto, MaryAnn (February 18, 2015) "Lakewood Rabbi Trial Underway for Kidnap, Torture of Husbands", NJ.com
- Samaha, Albert (May 7, 2014) "David Wax Pleads Guilty, Implicates Mendel Epstein in NJ Divorce Extortion Case", The Village Voice
- (December 14, 2015) "Rabbi Sentenced for Role in Divorce-Coercion Ring", The New York Times
- Blau, Reuven (February 19, 2015) "Rabbi Accused in Forced Divorce Plot is Called 'Hired Hand' who would 'Harass or Nail' Husband in Phone Recording", New York Daily News
- Boyer, Barbara (January 25, 2017) "Rabbis in Strong-arm Religious Divorces Ask Court to Overturn Convictions", Philly.com
- Lieberman, Steve and Bandler, Jonathan (October 11, 2013). "New Details Emerge in Jewish Divorce-gang Probe", USA Today
- (October 11, 2013) "Two Prominent Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Arrested in Divorce Extortion Case", News12 Westchester
- Spoto, MaryAnn (March 26, 2015) "Lakewood Rabbi's Son Wasn't Involved in Forced Divorce, Executive Testifies", NJ.com
- Spoto, MaryAnn (December 15, 2015) "Lakewood Rabbi Sentenced to 10 years in Prison for Divorce Kidnappings", NJ.com
- (Apr 21, 2015) "Three Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Convicted of Conspiracy to Kidnap Jewish Husbands in Order to Force Them to Consent to Religious Divorces", U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
- U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey (December 16, 2015). "Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Sentenced To Eight Years In Prison For Conspiring To Kidnap Jewish Husbands, Force Them To Consent To Religious Divorces".
- (January 13, 2016) "NJ Couple Sentenced For Helping Jewish Divorce Ring", The Times of Israel
- Nicosia, Mareesa (October 13, 2013). "Orthodox Leaders Struggle with Divorce Gang History", USA Today