TRENTON – The federal kidnapping case against the Lakewood rabbi dubbed “The Prodfather” lacks a critical piece of evidence, his attorney told the jury Tuesday: an actual cattle prod.
Robert Stahl, representing Rabbi Mendel Epstein, said there were no electric shock devices or other weapons recovered in 2013 when the FBI swept into an Edison warehouse and arrested a group of men wearing dark clothing and disguises with ties to Epstein, a well-known authority on contentious religious divorces within the insular Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Lakewood.
In his closing statement, Stahl suggested that the 69-year-old rabbi was “puffing and exaggerating” when he talked to undercover FBI agents about abducting, beating and tasering Jewish men in the testicles until they agreed to grant their wives divorces.
Stahl said his client only meant to reassure someone he believed to be a “desperate” wife who was counting on the rabbi to pressure her husband into providing her with a get, the document that proves a marriage has been dissolved under Jewish law.
“He’s now telling her, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get you through this,'” Stahl said.
Stahl acknowledged that Epstein may have committed other crimes, such as extortion — which he isn’t charged with — but not kidnapping.
“The rabbi was involved in something intended to scare, to pressure somebody to follow through, to grant their wife a divorce,” Stahl said.
“It’s about holding these husbands until the process of getting a get is done, but I would suggest to you it’s not a kidnapping.”
The attorney for one of Epstein’s co-defendants, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, followed a similar path in his closing comments to the jury of eight men and eight women.
“Kidnapping, kidnapping, kidnapping. How many times did we hear that word yesterday?” O’Connor said, referring to the government’s closing statement by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Wolfe.
“Two-hundred thirty-nine times. I counted,” he said. “As if by sheer repetition and by telling you there’s no reasonable doubt they … could bulldoze you into believing.”
Closing arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson are expected to continue today and Wednesday.
Epstein, who is implicated in a total of four alleged abductions between 2009 and 2013, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and one count of kidnapping.
Goldstein, Epstein’s son, David Epstein, also of Lakewood, and Rabbi Binyamin Stimler — all accused of being members of Epstein’s team of heavies — also face kidnapping-related charges.