TRENTON —The son of a Lakewood rabbi accused of arranging the beatings of men who wouldn’t give their wives religious divorces was in a meeting in Ohio when one of the attacks occurred, a business associate told jurors in an ongoing federal kidnapping and conspiracy trial.
The testimony of Greg Emmer, vice president and chief marketing officer for Kaeser & Blair Inc., was offered Thursday as an alibi for David “Ari” Epstein, who is accused of participating in the Aug. 22, 2011, attack on a Brooklyn man who would not give his wife a religious divorce.
That man, Usher Chaimowitz, eventually agreed to the divorce after hours of beatings. Chaimowitz’s roommate, Menachem Teitelbaum, who was also beaten in the attack, testified earlier in the trial that he heard one of the assailants yell, “Epstein, call your father.”
Federal prosecutors contend the reference was to David Epstein and his father, Mendel Epstein, a prominent Lakewood rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings. The father and son, along with rabbis Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, are on trial on kidnapping and conspiracy charges that grew out of a federal sting.
Emmer, called as a defense witness, said he met the younger Epstein in January 2011 at a trade show in Las Vegas where the two began their business affiliation. David Epstein owns GMG Pens and Emmer’s company sells items that can be personalized for promotional purposes.
Emmer showed the jury of eight men and eight women in Trenton his calendar listing for Aug. 22, 2011, that had a notation of a 10 a.m. meeting in his Ohio office with Epstein and Richard Waldinger, the man who introduced them.
When asked to pick out Epstein from among the people in the courtroom, Emmer started to describe where Epstein was sitting and then Epstein stood up.
“Do you have any doubt the man you identified in court is the same man who met with you on Aug. 22?” asked Epstein’s attorney, Henry Mazurek.
“No doubt,” Emmer said.
From the testimony of an earlier prosecution witness, Mazurek showed jurors that cell phone records showed Epstein’s cell phone was in Ohio on Aug. 22, 2011.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko challenged Emmer’s memory of the meeting and tried to convince jurors he exaggerated how well he knew Epstein. Emmer initially told an FBI agent that he met with three people, but on the witness stand he said he met with four. Emmer also could not identify the driver’s license photo of Epstein the FBI agent showed him, but Emmer on Thursday said it was a poor photo that didn’t bear much of a resemblance to Epstein.
For scheduling purposes, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson allowed the defense to start presenting its witnesses on Thursday even though federal prosecutors have not yet finished presenting their case.
Another defense witness, Rabbi Howard Jachter, discussed the process of obtaining religious divorces. Attorney Nathan Lewin, who represents Stimler, asked Jachter about items taken from vehicles when several men including Stimler, were arrested after a sting operation in Edison in October 2013.
The sting involved an undercover FBI agent posing as an Orthodox Jewish woman whose husband wouldn’t grant her a religious divorce. The men were arrested at a warehouse in Edison where federal prosecutors contend they were ready to beat the husband until he relented.
Asked by Lewin about quills, a bottle of ink, paper and razor blades found in the cars, Jachter said they are all used in the writing of a get.
In his cross-examination, Gribko asked Jachter about other items found in the cars – including a nylon rope, masks, a blindfold and a small bottle of vodka.
“In your experience, is nylon rope used in a get procedure?” Gribko asked.
“No,” Jachter replied.
Gribko repeated the same question for each item and each time Jachter responded “no.”
Federal prosecutors displayed on a large television screen photographs of Stimler wearing a face mask and Goldstein’s son Avrohom Goldstein, wearing a Halloween mask, that they allegedly wore at the Edison warehouse.