TRENTON, NJ - Three Orthodox Jewish Rabbis were convicted at trial today for conspiring to kidnap Jewish men in an effort to force them to give their wives religious divorces, referred to as “gets,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein, 69, of Lakewood, New Jersey; Jay Goldstein a/k/a “Yaakov,” 60, of Brooklyn, New York; and Binyamin Stimler, 39, of Brooklyn, New York, were each convicted on Count One of the indictment, conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Goldstein and Stimler were additionally convicted on Count Five of the indictment, attempted kidnapping. Epstein’s son, David Epstein a/k/a “Ari,” 40, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was acquitted on three counts. The jury deliberated three days following an eight-week trial before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
On Dec. 1, 2009, in Lakewood, an Orthodox Jewish man, Israel Markowitz, was assaulted, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get.
A get is a divorce under according to Jewish law. If a person was married under Jewish law, that person cannot technically remarry under Jewish law without a get.
On Oct. 16, 2010, in Lakewood, another Orthodox Jewish man, Ysrael Bryskman, was assaulted, tied up and beaten until he agreed to give his wife a get.
On Aug. 22, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York, another Orthodox Jewish man, Usher Chaimowitz, and his roommate, Menachem Teitlebaum, were assaulted, tied up, and beaten until Chaimowitz agreed to give his wife a get.
Based upon these incidents, the FBI began an undercover operation in August 2013 in which two FBI agents posed as a wife who was seeking a get from her recalcitrant husband, and her brother, who was trying to help her obtain the get. Over the next several weeks, the undercover agents had multiple recorded phone calls and in-person meetings with defendant Mendel Epstein. In those meetings, Mendel Epstein arranged to have his team kidnap the husband at a warehouse in exchange for $60,000.
On October 9, 2013, Goldstein, Stimler and six other individuals, traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, to execute the planned kidnapping of the husband to force him to give the get. They arrived at the warehouse in two dark minivans shortly after 8 p.m. Some of the kidnap team members put on masks and entered the warehouse office with the undercover agent posing as the brother. The remaining kidnappers walked around the outside with flashlights. Over the next 15 minutes, members of the kidnap team went in and out of the warehouse office wearing disguises, including ski masks, Halloween masks and bandanas. They discussed their plan for kidnapping and assaulting the husband, how they planned to grab him, pull him down, tie him up, and take his phone. Members of the kidnap team brought with them to the warehouse a 30-foot nylon rope, a blindfold, vodka, license plates they had switched out, and items used to ceremonially record the get. At 8:23 p.m., law enforcement moved into the warehouse office and arrested the eight men, including Goldstein and Stimler. Mendel Epstein was arrested at his Brooklyn home the same night.
The count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping carries a maximum potential penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The count of attempted to commit kidnapping carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15, 2015. Nine other individuals previously entered guilty pleas in connection with this conspiracy.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark, and the Lakewood Police for the investigation leading to today’s verdicts.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko and Sarah M. Wolfe of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton.