NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Two rabbis and two other men allegedly used kidnapping and cattle prods, among other methods, to force Orthodox Jewish men into divorcing their wives, authorities said.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark as well as Ariel Potash and a fourth individual known as “Yaakov” were arrested after the FBI raided several locations overnight, including Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Suffern, a home in Brooklyn and at least one other location in New Jersey.
Potash and Yaakov are accused of being “tough guys” who kidnapped and beat up the recalcitrant husbands of distraught wives seeking a divorce, authorities said.
Epstein and Wolmark allegedly charged the wives and their families thousands of dollars to obtain the religious divorce and arranged the beatings, according to the criminal complaint.
According to Jewish law, in order to get a religious divorce a husband must provide his wife with a document known as a “get,” the complaint said.
Only a husband can initiate divorce by issuing the “get,” but a wife has the right to sue for divorce in rabbinical court, court papers said.
According to the criminal complaint, an undercover FBI agent posed as an Orthodox Jewish wife who was seeking a divorce from her unwilling husband. A second undercover agent posed as her brother.
In August, the undercover agents called Wolmark saying they were “desperate for a religious divorce and were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain a divorce,” the complaint said.
“There are a couple of ways to do that,” Wolmark allegedly said in a recorded phone conversation. “You have to, we have to, convene a special beth din and see if there are grounds to, to, to coerce him on the ‘get.’”
Wolmark said the process “could be very costly” and requires “special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through the end,” the complaint said.
“In other words, you need to get him to New York where someone either can harass him or nail him. Plain and simple,” he said, according to the complaint.
Wolmark then linked up the undercovers with Epstein, who met him at his house in New Jersey about a week later — a meeting that was recorded, the papers said.
During the meeting, Epstein talked about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce,” court papers said.
“Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the ‘get,’” Epstein allegedly said.
He said they would use “tough guys” who utilize “electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and place plastic bags over the heads of husbands,” the complaint said.
According to the complaint, Epstein said if a cattle prod “can get a bull that weighs five tons to move, you put in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know.”
Epstein said he commits a kidnapping every year to year and half, authorities said.
He said it would cost $10,000 to pay for the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping and an additional $50,000 to $60,000 to pay for the “tough guys,” authorities said.
Epstein told the undercovers that Wolmark officiates during the kidnapping and that his son was one of the so-called “tough guys” who “uses his karate skills” on the victims, court papers said.
They allegedly arranged to meet in Rockland County in October to begin the process of authorizing the use of violence to obtain a forced “get.”
In subsequent phone conversations, the undercover agent posing as the brother suggested he could lure the female undercover’s husband to New Jersey, the complaint said.
Epstein eventually proposed that the husband be brought to a warehouse in Middlesex County, where Yaakov and Epstein were later seen by FBI surveillance teams scoping out the location, prosecutors said.
On Oct. 2, the undercover female agent met with Wolmark, Epstein, Potash and Yaakov to get approval for the use of force, authorities said.
Potash said that he “does whatever the rabbis tell him” while Yaakov wrote everything down, court papers said.
After the meeting, Epstein confirmed the plan and authorized the use of force to obtain the “get” and $20,000 was wire transferred by one of the undercover agents to Epstein, authorities said.
Law enforcement sources said Epstein’s scheme has been going on for as long as 20 years, WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman reported.
Ten more people have also been taken into custody in connection with case, 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reported.
The investigation is ongoing.