YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An Orthodox rabbi from Rockland County pleaded guilty in federal court in Trenton today to his role in a scheme to kidnap and torture a Jewish man into granting his wife a religious divorce.
Martin Wolmark, 56, the head of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring to travel in interstate commerce to commit extortion.
Authorities said eight men went to a warehouse in Edison with the intent of forcing the man into a “get” — a divorce document that, under Jewish law, must be presented by a husband to his wife in order to divorce her.
Some wore Halloween masks and another a Metallica T-shirt, while carrying rope, flashlights, surgical blades, a screwdriver, and plastic bags, authorities said.
The group met at the warehouse with a man they thought was the woman’s brother — actually, an undercover FBI agent.
There, one defendant admitted, they “discussed a plan and prepared to confine, restrain and threaten the victim.”
When the undercover agent left — purportedly to fetch the reluctant husband — agents moved in and arrested the group.
Soon after, they took Wolmark ( above, left ) and rabbi Mendel Epstein ( above, right ), a prominent ultra-Orthodox divorce mediator in Brooklyn, into custody in connection with the torture-for-hire scheme.
Federal authorities said the unholy crew didn’t operate out of religious conviction to free women from dead marriages but for the money. Defense attorneys have countered that such “pressure” is part of tradition and that federal and religious laws have collided.
Wolmark was the initial contact for the FBI agent posing as the unhappily married woman.
During the conversation, which was recorded by investigators, Wolmark told the agents that there were two ways to go about obtaining a get from such a recalcitrant husband.
One was to “nail him.”
Doing so would become expensive, he warned. He then hooked up her and her “brother” with Epstein, the government said.
On Oct. 2, 2013, Wolmark convened a “beth din” (rabbinical court) with Mendel Epstein and defendant Jay Goldstein in his office in Suffern to “determine whether there were grounds under Jewish law to coerce the husband into giving the get,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.
The female agent also attended and recorded the meeting, he said.
Epstein “discussed openly the plan to kidnap and assault the purported husband in order to obtain the get,” Fishman said.
According to an FBI complaint, there was talk of using electric cattle prods and plastic bags put over reluctant husbands’ heads. Each job paid $50,000 to $60,000, with most of it going to the “tough guys” — or enforcers, the FBI said.
“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,” Epstein is quoted as saying during a conversation recorded by the bureau.
As for the cattle prod, Epstein was quoted saying: “If it can get a bull that weighs 5 tons to move … you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute, the guy will know.”
On Oct. 9, 2013, the kidnapping crew set out for Edison.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey and New York have said that they believe group members were involved in as many as 20 such shakedowns before the sting.
Fishman credited the FBI and thanked Lakewood (NJ) police for their assistance. Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko and Sarah Wolfe of Fishman’s Trenton office.
Sentencing for Wolmark was set for May 18, 2015.
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