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Lev Tahor Cult Leaders Charged with Kidnapping; Extradited to NYC

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(L-R) Aron Yeshaya Rosner, Meyer Rosner, Nachman Helbrans

On Friday it was reported that authorities in New York announced that three more alleged leaders of the Lev Tahor cult have been arrested on charges of kidnapping two children from the Catskill mountains several weeks ago on Shabbos.

Authorities said the kids were located on Friday in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire and there are plans to bring them back to the United States and reunite them with their mother.

Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner and Jacob Rosner were arrested on Thursday following their deportation from Mexico to New York. Aron Rosner, 45, of Brooklyn, NY, Mayer Rosner, 42, of Guatemala, Jacob Rosner 20, of Guatemala, and Nachman Helbrans 36, of Guatemala, were each charged with one count of kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Yante Teller, age 14, and brother Chaim Teller, age 12, residents of Woodridge, N.Y., were allegedly kidnapped and taken to live with the religious group known as Lev Tahor in Mexico, according to a complaint filed in Federal District Court.

Aron Rosner was arrested Sunday and charged with kidnapping in connection with the children’s disappearance, the New York Times reported. The complaint that was filed accuses Rosner of conspiring with members of the religious group Lev Tahor to kidnap the siblings.

Rosner is reportedly the brother of one of the group’s leaders, the Times continued, who according to the filed complaint was also involved in the kidnapping.

“The men were part of a group of at least six co-conspirators who worked to bring the children to Lev Tahor’s community in Guatemala,” according to the Times.

Lev Tahor is widely described as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect founded by Shlomo Helbrans, generally follows a strict version of Jewish law, including its own unique practices such as lengthy prayer sessions, arranged marriages between teenagers, and black, head-to-toe coverings for females beginning at age three. The group has faced allegations of kidnapping, sexual abuse, and child abuse, and has been referred to as a cult.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

“Thankfully, the kidnappers were no match for the perseverance of the FBI, the New York State Police and Mexican authorities, and the children were recovered this morning after a nearly three-week search,” Berman said.

The men are believed to be the leaders of Lev Tahor, described by the authorities as an “extremist Jewish sect based in Guatemala” that in the past reportedly subjected children to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Yeshiva World News reported that the FBI said in the court filings that the children’s mother had been a “voluntary member” of Lev Tahor, but fled the group in recent weeks after speaking out against the increasing extremism within the cult, and fearing that her children weren’t safe there. She was reunited with her 6 children in New York last month, following an intense weeks-long international rescue effort.

Her father, Shlomo Helbrans, founded the sect and, in 1994, was convicted of kidnapping a 13-year-old in New York. Shlomo Helbrans was later deported to Israel. He drowned in Mexico in 2017.

Defendant Nachman Helbrans is the brother of the kidnapped children’s mother and had become the new leader of the sect, the authorities said.

Reports say that the group moves its base of operation often, and that most of its adherents resided in the Guatemalan town of San Juan La Laguna before moving yet again to Chiapas, Mexico. They are said to fled government child welfare agencies in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

In mid-December, the FBI arrested five leaders of the cult in Mexico, Yeshiva World News reported. In what the Jerusalem Post termed “a nightly operation and in cooperation with Interpol,” FBI agents raided Lev Tahor-owned properties in Mexico and is working on transferring the suspects to the US.”

Charges against the men might include kidnapping, sexual abuse, running a cult, extortion, intimidation, child abuse and more.

“A child that was found during the arrests was identified as the child of Guatemalan converts who became Jewish through Lev Tahor but left the cult after being faced with the horrors of the groups reality,” said the Post. “The child was returned to the parents, who still live a religious Jewish life in Guatemala.”

Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common,” the story continued. “The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.”

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding work of the FBI and members of the FBI Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force, the New York State Police and the members of Troops F and NYC, United States Customs and Border Protection, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department, the Spring Valley Police Department, the Village of Woodridge Police Department, and our law enforcement partners in Mexico. Mr. Berman also thanked the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for its assistance.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Jamie Bagliebter are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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