TRENTON, N.J. -- Two rabbis and four other men who allegedly helped set up a kidnapping meant to force an Orthodox Jewish husband to give his wife a religious divorce could be released on bail as soon as Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert placed home confinement and other tight restrictions on the six men, including Mendel Epstein and Rabbi Martin "Mordachai" Wolmark.Rabbi
Epstein, a prominent ultra-Orthodox divorce mediator in Brooklyn, N.Y., will be wearing an electronic bracelet while he remains under house confinement in his home in Lakewood, N.J., Arpert said.
Wolmark is the head of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, N.Y. Epstein, who this summer published a "Bill of Rights of a Jewish Wife," and Wolmark are the accused masterminds of the plot.
The FBI conducted a raid Oct. 9 on the yeshiva and a warehouse in New Jersey as part of a sweeping investigation into the gang.
In a criminal complaint released the next day, the group reportedly plotted to kidnap and torture -- with cattle prods -- a man they thought was the recalcitrant husband of an Orthodox woman to provide a religious divorce, or get.
Epstein, Wolmark and the four others -- Ariel Potash, Binyamin Stimler, David Helman and Sholom Shuchat -- were being held at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center and could return there Wednesday.
Manhattan attorney Susan Necheles, who represents Epstein, who also has a home in Brooklyn, said he and the other men may not be able to meet all the conditions of release by Wednesday. Those conditions included surrendering the passports of the defendants and their wives and posting property -- several properties for Epstein and some of the other defendants.
The six men in court Wednesday in Trenton, N.J., sat shackled in the jury box wearing Army green jumpsuits and black yarmulkes as more than 50 supporters and family members watched the proceedings. Several people rose for Epstein as he was led into the courtroom. A U.S. marshal unlocked his handcuffs, but not those of the others.
Four other defendants -- Jay Goldstein, Moshe Goldstein, Simcha Bulmash and Avrohom Goldstein -- have yet to have bail set and were still being held at the detention center.
Four daughters and Epstein's wife were scheduled to put up five pieces of property totaling more than $4 million in value to secure his release.
"This man is all about his family," Necheles said in arguing for bail, mentioning his eight children, more than 50 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. "If he were to flee, all of his children and grandchildren would be out on the street."
Epstein denies any wrongdoing, she said.
"It's a matter for trial," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Joseph Gribko said none of the men should be released regardless of their religious backgrounds.
"Had we been talking about the mob or the Bloods or the Crips we wouldn't even be discussing a bond in this case," he told Arpert. "There's no difference between them and these other gangs that engage in violent crime."
If convicted, the men could face up to life in prison. The ages and hometowns of all the men were not immediately available.
An undercover FBI special agent posed as an Orthodox Jewish wife whose husband was unwilling to consent to divorce, while a second agent posed as the wife's brother, the complaint said. On Aug. 7, both agents called Wolmark to present their case and tell him they were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain the divorce. Wolmark explained how he could coerce the divorce, but it would be expensive, the complaint said.
Epstein told them the kidnapping 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" who would conduct the beating and obtain the forced get, the complaint said.
According to the complaint, the "tough guys" would use electric cattle prods, karate and handcuffs, and place plastic bags over the heads of husbands.
"We take an electric cattle prod," Epstein said.
"Electric cattle prod, OK," the undercover agent replied.
"If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move ... you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know," Epstein said, according to the complaint.
A law-enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said the arrests were the direct result of a 2011 case in which a Lakewood couple, David and Judy Wax, were accused of kidnapping an Israeli national in an attempt to force him to divorce his estranged wife in Israel. Proceedings in that case have been repeatedly postponed since the arrest.