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Two Charged With Kiryas Joel Kidnapping, Murder Plot

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara made the announcement of the arrests.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara made the announcement of the arrests. Photo Credit: COURTESY: FBI

RAMAPO, N.Y. -- A prominent Kiryas Joel rabbi and a Monroe man were charged in New York City with conspiring to kidnap and murder a man in order for his wife to obtain a religious divorce.

Shimen Liebowitz, 25, of Monroe, and Rabbi Aharon Goldberg, 55, of Bnei Brak, Israel, were charged Tuesday in Central Valley, while meeting to plan the kidnapping and murder, said Preet Bharara, U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“The defendants are charged with a chilling plot to kidnap and murder the intended victim. Over a period of months, the Complaint alleges, they met repeatedly to plan the kidnapping and to pay more than $55,000 to an individual they believed would carry it out," Bharara said. "Thanks to the exemplary work of our partners at the FBI and NYPD, Liebowitz and Goldberg are now in custody.”

According to the allegations unsealed in Manhattan federal court, in early July an individual contacted the FBI and reported that he had been recruited by the two men to kidnap a man in order to force him to allow his wife to receive a religious divorce.

The fake hitman, like Goldberg and Liebowitz, is an Orthodox Jew. Liebowitz is a member of the Satmar community in Kiryas Joel, and Goldberg is an Israel-based rabbi who also maintains a position of prominence in Kiryas Joel.

The intended hit man told the FBI that during the meeting, which he recorded, he feigned interest in participating in the kidnapping. During the meeting, the three men discussed how such a kidnapping might be carried out, including the possibility of luring the victim to Pennsylvania in order to kidnap him, torture him, and force him to allow the divorce.

They also discussed the possibility of kidnapping the man in Ukraine, where he planned to travel in late September to celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Goldberg and Liebowitz agreed to pay the informant $25,000 in advance. According to the informant, within days of the initial meeting, an envelope containing approximately $25,000 cash was delivered to him.

In subsequent meetings throughout August and early September, the two provided the informant with an additional $32,000 and added murder to their wish list for the victim.

“As if the plan to kidnap the victim and force him to divorce his wife in this alleged conspiracy wasn’t bad enough, the plotters allegedly decided halfway through the arrangement to go a step further and add murder to the list of their planned crimes," said FBI assistant director-in-charge William F. Sweeney Jr. "Our country protects freedom of religious beliefs and practices, but no one is allowed to plot a kidnapping and murder regardless of their motivation.”

Liebowitz and Goldberg were charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum potential sentence of life in prison, and one count each of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison.

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