The convictions in the divorce extortion case keep rolling in this month. On Tuesday Simcha Bulmash, 30, pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to participating in the kidnapping and assault scheme that targeted Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives a divorce. He is the fourth to do so over the last three weeks.
Like the three before him, Bulmash was arrested in an October 2013 FBI string operation that led to charges against 10 men, including Mendel Epstein, the divorce broker from Brooklyn accused of orchestrating the plot. And also like the other three others who have pleaded guilty, Bulmash admitted that the October 2013 incident was not the first time he had participated in the scheme.
See also our December feature story: Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker’s Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community
On August 22, 2011, he told prosecutors, he and others restrained and assaulted a man in Brooklyn in order to coerce him to grant his wife a “get,” the document required for a divorce in under Orthodox Jewish faith.
New Jersey prosecutors had begun investigating Epstein a year before, in October 2010, when a group of men allegedly attacked a man named Yisrael Bryskman in Lakewood. In August 2013, an undercover agent posing as a desperate Orthodox wife hired Epstein to coerce her husband into granting her a “get.”
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 told the woman that he orchestrated a kidnapping about once a year. He explained that it would cost $10,000 to pay for the rabbis to approve the coercion, plus $60,000 to cover the “tough guys.”
On October 9, eight “tough guys” gathered in a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey to prepare for the kidnapping. That’s when federal agents swarmed in to arrest them. Epstein and Martin Wolmark, a rabbi from upstate New York, were arrested shortly after.
Bulmash was in the warehouse, along with David Hellmen, who pleaded guilty on March 6, and brothers Avrohom and Moshe Goldstein, who pleaded guilty on March 11. All four pleaded guilty to a charge of traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion. They each face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Bulmash’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 10. Charges against the six remaining defendants are pending.
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. Some tales of kidnapping and torture at the hands of Epstein go back as far as the early 1980s.
Next: the indictment against the defendants.
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