Two Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Sentenced To Prison For Conspiring To Kidnap Jewish Husbands, Force Them To Consent To Religious Divorces.
TRENTON, N.J. – Two Orthodox Jewish Rabbis were sentenced to prison today for conspiring to kidnap Jewish men in an effort to force them to give their wives religious divorces, referred to as “gets,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein, 70, of Lakewood, New Jersey, and Binyamin Stimler, 40, of Brooklyn, New York, were sentenced to 120 and 39 months in prison, respectively. They were both convicted at trial of Count One of an indictment charging them with conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Stimler was additionally convicted on Count Five of the indictment, attempted kidnapping. Judge Wolfson imposed both sentences today in Trenton federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
On Dec. 1, 2009, in Lakewood, an Orthodox Jewish man, Israel Markowitz, was assaulted, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get.
On Oct. 16, 2010, in Lakewood, another Orthodox Jewish man, Ysrael Bryskman, was assaulted, tied up and beaten until he agreed to give his wife a get.
On Aug. 22, 2011, in Brooklyn, another Orthodox Jewish man, Usher Chaimowitz, and his roommate, Menachem Teitlebaum, were assaulted, tied up and beaten until Chaimowitz agreed to give his wife a get.
Based upon these incidents, the FBI began an undercover operation in August 2013 in which two FBI agents posed as a wife who was seeking a get from her recalcitrant husband, and her brother, who was trying to help her obtain the get. Over the next several weeks, the undercover agents had multiple recorded phone calls and in-person meetings with defendant Epstein. In those meetings, Epstein arranged to have his team kidnap the husband at a warehouse in exchange for $60,000.
On October 9, 2013, Stimler and others – including Jay Goldstein, 61, Moshe Goldstein, 32, Avrohom Goldstein, 36, Simcha Bulmash, 32, David Hellman, 33, and Sholom Shuchat, 31, all of Brooklyn, and Ariel Potash, 42, of Monsey, New York – traveled from New York to a warehouse in Middlesex County, New Jersey, to execute the planned kidnapping of the husband to force him to give the get.
They arrived at the warehouse in two dark minivans shortly after 8:00 p.m. Some of the kidnap team members put on masks and entered the warehouse office with the undercover agent posing as the brother.
The remaining kidnappers walked around the outside with flashlights. Over the next 15 minutes, members of the kidnap team went in and out of the warehouse office wearing disguises, including ski masks, Halloween masks and bandanas. They discussed their plan for kidnapping and assaulting the husband, how they planned to grab him, pull him down, tie him up, and take his phone. Members of the kidnap team brought with them to the warehouse a 30-foot nylon rope, a blindfold, vodka, license plates they had switched out, and items used to ceremonially record the get.
At 8:23 p.m., law enforcement moved into the warehouse office and arrested the eight men, including Stimler. Epstein was arrested at his Brooklyn home the same night.
In addition to the prison terms, Judge Wolfson sentenced both Epstein and Stimler to five years of supervised release.
Avrohom Goldstein, Potash, Shuchat, Moshe Goldstein, Hellman, and Bulmash have all pleaded guilty to one count of traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion. Avrohom Goldstein and Potash were sentenced Nov. 19, 2015 to 45 and 14 months in prison, respectively. Shuchat was sentenced to time served on Nov. 19, 2015. Moshe Goldstein was sentenced Nov. 16, 2015 to 48 months in prison. Hellman and Bulmash were sentenced Nov. 17, 2015 to 44 and 48 months in prison, respectively. Martin Wolmark, 57, of Monsey, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to commit extortion and was sentenced yesterday to 38 months in prison.
Jay Goldstein, who was convicted at trial of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping, is scheduled for sentencing tomorrow.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark, and the Lakewood Police Department with the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko and Sarah M. Wolfe of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton.
Mendel Epstein: Robert G. Stahl Esq. and Laura Gasiorowski Esq., Westfield, New Jersey
Binyamin Stimler: Nathan Lewin Esq., Washington, D.C.