Avrohom and Moshe Goldstein pleaded guilty this week to taking part in a scheme to kidnap and beat an Orthodox Jewish man who refused to grant his wife a divorce. The brothers are the second and third to admit to the crime, following David Hellman, a Brooklyn man who pleaded guilty last week.
Like Hellman, the Goldsteins were among the eight men arrested in a New Jersey warehouse while allegedly preparing to violently coerce a recalcitrant husband. They pleaded guilty to charges of traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion. Federal prosecutors have accused Mendel Epstein, a divorce broker from Brooklyn, as the leader behind the plot.
See also our December feature story: Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker’s Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community
An FBI sting operation brought about the October arrests. An undercover agent posing as a desperate Orthodox wife had hired Epstein to coerce her husband into granting her a “get,” the document required to dissolve a marriage in the religion. The agent recorded the interactions, capturing Epstein’s saying things like “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.” He also told her that the service cost up to $60,000.
The men in the warehouse were the alleged “tough guys” Epstein contracted to procure the get.
As we detailed in a December feature story, Bad Rabbi, members of the Orthodox community have for decades accused Epstein of exploiting the religion’s marriage customs for his own financial gain. Men accused him of kidnapping and beating them up, sometimes zapping them with a cattle prod, when they refused to grant their wives a get. Women accused him of threatening to ruin their reputations in the tight-knit community if they turned down his services.
Epstein’s extra-legal service had been an open secret since the 1980s. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of New Jersey began investigating Epstein in October 2010, when a group of men allegedly attacked a man named Yisrael Bryskman in Lakewood. While Epstein was not charged in that case, law enforcement officials suspected his involvement and organized the sting. Epstein has not made a plea and is currently awaiting trial.
The Golstein brothers, also like Hellman, admitted to participating in an uncharged August 2011 divorce extortion in Brooklyn as well. They each face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Next: the indictment against the defendants.