Indictment Officially Ties Rabbis to Three Divorce Extortion Kidnappings
As we detailed in our December feature story, Bad Rabbi, members of Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community have accused Mendel Epstein of kidnappings and assaults since the mid-1980s. Epstein, the locals claimed, specialized in coercing husbands to grant their wives a get, the document required for a divorce under the religion's law.
At least one victim, Abraham Rubin, contacted the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in the mid-'90s, claiming that a group of men had thrown him into a van, blindfolded him, and beat him. Multiple witnesses filed affidavits implicating Epstein and Martin Wolmark, a rabbi from upstate New York, and Yaakov Goldstein, the scribe tasked with transcribing the get. Epstein was not arrested, and his name remained unknown to those outside the Orthodox community.
That finally changed last fall, when prosecutors and federal agents in New Jersey conducted a sting operation again Epstein. In a recorded conversation he detailed his services to an undercover FBI agent posing as a desperate wife. Epstein, Wolmark, and ten others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, among other charges. At that point, Epstein was officially tied to only that single incident.
But that has also changed. Prosecutors have charged Esptein for three kidnapping incidents, according to the indictment against Epstein and four others, which the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey unsealed on Thursday.
See also our December feature story: Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community
In addition to Mendel Epstein, the indictment lists his son David Epstein, Wolmark, Goldstein, and Binyamin Stimler as defendants.
In November 2009, the document states, David Epstein "lured a man from Brooklyn, New York to Lakewood, New Jersey under the pretense of an employment offer." On December 1, the man was "assaulted by [David Epstein] and others, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get."
On October 16, 2010, according to the indictment, David Epstein and others beat up a man in Lakewood, after luring him under the pretense under the of helping [unnamed government cooperator] with Talmudic research. Wolmark and Goldstein officiated the get, the indictment states. Based on the date and details, the victim was Yisrael Bryskman, and the unnamed cooperator was David Wax, who pleaded guilty earlier this month. It was the investigation into the Wax case that initially led the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office to Epstein, spokesperson Rebekah Carmichael told the Voice in November.
On August 22, 2011, the indictment states, David Epstein, Goldstein, and others "forced their way inside the residence of a man and his roommate in Brooklyn, New York... then assaulted [them], punched them the face, handcuffed them, blindfolded them, and bound their legs until [the man] agreed to give his wife a get."
The indictment also cites the details of the sting that led to Mendel Epstein's arrest. Epstein offered his services to the undercover agent for $70,000. He mentioned that he orchestrated at least one kidnapping a year.
"We take an electric cattle prod," Epstein said in their recorded conversation. "If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move, you put it in certain parts of the body and in one minute the guy will know."
Federal agents arrested eight accomplices, including Goldstein and Stimler, as they prepared for the kidnapping in a warehouse. Four of those accomplices have pleaded guilty.
All five defendants in the incitement face one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, as well as multiple counts of attempted kidnapping. Epstein, gold stein, and Wolmark also face multiple counts of kidnapping. The maximum sentence for conspiracy to commit kidnapping is life in prison.
Next: the text of the indictment.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.