TRENTON — The attorney for a Pennsylvania woman who wanted a religious divorce said Monday that a Lakewood rabbi instructed her family to pay the rabbi $60,000 as part of his attempt to secure her divorce.
Fredric Goldfein told jurors in the federal conspiracy and kidnapping trial of Rabbi Mendel Epstein that in his efforts to get a Maryland man to agree to a divorce, Epstein instructed him to wire $60,000 to two of the congregations he led.
A few days after the money was transferred to Epstein’s congregations, the husband, Aharon Friedman, was attacked on July 29, 2012, by three men at the home of his former in-laws in Pennsylvania in an attempt to force him to issue the divorce.
Goldfein, testifying for the federal government in exchange for immunity, said he was surprised when he heard about the attack on Friedman and called another rabbi to try to learn more details.
Goldfein, who is a rabbi, said he was led to believe the money was to go to the husband, Friedman, as part of his agreement to grant his wife a religious divorce so that she would eventually be permitted to remarry in the Orthodox Jewish community.
“The $60,000 was not for anything like that,” Goldfein said. “It was to give to Aharon Friedman.”
He said Friedman wanted the money as reimbursement for the property settlement his wife reportedly received in civil court. He said he expected to pay some kind of fee for Epstein’s service after the divorce was granted.
Epstein, a prominent rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings, is on trial in federal court in Trenton along with his son, David “Ari” Epstein, and two other rabbis, Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, on conspiracy and kidnapping charges that grew out of a federal undercover sting.
Goldfein said he had tried several times to negotiate the religious divorce – called a get – without success. He said he consulted Rabbi Martin Wolmark in Brooklyn, who referred him to Epstein.
“Rabbi Wolmark said that Rabbi Epstein could turn up the heat,” Goldfein testified before U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton.
“What did you take that to mean?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko.
“They would annoy him or holler at him to get him to take the deal,” Goldfein said.
On cross-examination, Goldfein said Epstein never spoke to him about using physical force to obtain the divorce. He said that Friedman was the subject of widespread publicity in Jewish publications in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland for his refusal to give his wife a divorce. There had also been rallies outside Friedman’s place of employment, his house and his parents’ house, Goldfein said.
Friedman, who testified last week, was attacked by three men – one of whom wore a tan ski mask – but he could not identify any of his assailants. He managed to escape and did not grant the religious divorce.
Epstein’s attorney, Robert Stahl, is trying to convince the jury of eight men and eight women that people other than his client had motive to attack Friedman.
Entering their sixth week of trial, federal prosecutors on Monday showed bank records indicating four payments totaling $60,000 to Epstein’s congregations in March and April of 2012, Congregation Kol Reuven and Congregation Beth Jacob, and Goldfein said Friedman did not receive the $60,000.