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Thursday, October 10, 2013

2 rabbis, 2 others charged in Jewish divorce shakedown

Two Orthodox rabbis are accused of plotting kidnappings and beatings of Jewish men to pressure them into granting religious divorces to their wives.

The FBI said Thursday that agents arrested rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark in a sting operation, where an undercover posed as a woman who wanted out of her marriage. Orthodox rules allow only a man to initiate a divorce.

Initially charged were Rabbis Mendel Epstein, 68, and Martin Wolmark, 55, Ariel Potash, 40, and a fourth individual only identified as “Yaakov.” All four are due to appear in U.S. District Court in Trenton later today.

The men allegedly asked for tens of thousands of dollars to target husbands, and claimed they did jobs like this every 18 months in their community.

The criminal complaint alleged the two rabbis boasted of a plan to use electric cattle prods, plastic bags over heads and other methods to persuade reluctant husbands. In the sting operation, the FBI said the pair earlier this month even helped scout a warehouse in Middlesex County to hold husbands hostage.

The rabbis allegedly met in Rockland County in August to authorize the kidnapping-for-divorce-plot. They said they wanted $10,000 for the kidnapping and $50,000 to $60,000 to pay a "tough guy."

In one exchange with an undercover posing as an unhappily married woman, Wolmark allegedly told her "you need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end."

"You need to get him to New York where someone can either harass him or nail him," he allegedly added.

The FBI said two others have also been charged.

The suspects were expected to appear in federal court in Trenton Thursday on the federal charges.

Attempts to locate attorneys for the suspects were not immediately successful Thursday morning.

FBI agents were seen overnight searching a Brooklyn home and an upstate yeshiva in connection with the investigation.  

The charges include plotting to kidnap, abduct, hold for ransom and threaten to "coerce a man to conduct a divorce."

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