Brooklyn Brothers Plead Guilty in “Get” Coercion, Extortion Case - The Jewish Voice
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Brooklyn Brothers Plead Guilty in “Get” Coercion, Extortion Case

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FBI agents remove evidence from the Brooklyn residence of Rabbi Mendel Epstein during an investigation, early Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in New York.
FBI agents remove evidence from the Brooklyn residence of Rabbi Mendel Epstein during an investigation, early Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in New York.
A pair of Brooklyn brothers have admitted to crossing state lines on consecutive days as part of a plan to violently coerce an unwilling husband to grant his wife a religious divorce, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Avrohom Goldstein, 34, pleaded guilty on Tuesday, March 11, to a charge of “raveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion,” Vosizneias has reported. Moshe Goldstein, 31, entered his guilty plea March 10, 2014, to the same charge. Both brothers entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court.

The brothers are among 10 men, including two Orthodox Jewish rabbis, arrested last fall in the alleged scheme in which they hired themselves out to unhappy wives who wanted their husbands kidnapped and beaten until they agreed to divorce, the prosecutors in New Jersey said, according to a Reuters report.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Oct. 9, 2013, Moshe Goldstein, Avrohom Goldstein and a group of conspirators – including David Hellman, 31, their father, Jay Goldstein, 59, Simcha Bulmash, 30, Ariel Potash, 40, Binyamin Stimler, 38, and Sholom Shuchat, 29 – traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, N.J., on Oct. 9, 2013. They are accused of traveling with the intent of forcing a Jewish man to give his wife a “get,” ( a divorce document which, according to Jewish Law, must be presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce).

During the recent proceedings, Moshe and Avrohom admitted that when arriving at the warehouse, the group met with an individual who was in fact an undercover FBI agent posing as the husband’s brother-in-law. The brothers admitted, as did Hellman in an earlier court proceeding, that they discussed a plan and prepared to confine, restrain and threaten the victim.

The group was arrested by a team of FBI agents and they were charged by criminal complaint, along with rabbis Mendel Epstein, 68, and Martin Wolmark, 55 , in connection with the scheme. All of the defendants reside in Brooklyn, except Potash and Wolmark, who live in Monsey, New York.

Moshe and Avrohom Goldstein also admitted that on Aug. 22, 2011, they and others went to a residence in Brooklyn where they restrained, assaulted and injured a man in an attempt to extort a divorce from him. That conduct will be considered by the court during sentencing, currently scheduled for June 16, 2014, for Moshe Goldstein and June 20, 2014, for Avrohom Goldstein. Each brother is bailed on a $500,000 bond and subject to GPS monitoring.

Hellman was the first defendant to plead guilty. He admitted to the same conduct in a Trenton federal court on March 6. Vosizneias has reported that his bail conditions will include a $500,000 bond and GPS monitoring.

The charges against the alleged conspirators remain pending.

The brothers each face a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

Traditionally, Orthodox Jewish women cannot be granted a divorce unless their husbands consent through a document called a “get.” Wives reportedly paid tens of thousands of dollars to the ring that would abduct and beat their husbands, prosecutors said at the time of the October arrests.

According to Reuters, Hellman’s defense attorney, Michael Bachner, said his client “has acknowledged his responsibility for his conduct and he is regretful for it, and looks forward to going on with his life.”

And Haaretz has explained that “Israel’s rabbinical courts only exercise their power to impose sanctions on recalcitrant husbands in two percent of all divorce cases,” according to a leading legal scholar.

“I believes this one figure tells the whole story,” said Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, the executive director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at the Bar-Ilan University law school.

The law allows rabbinical court judges to impose various sanctions against intransigent husbands who render their wives agunot – literally, “chained women.” These women cannot get out of their marriages either because their husbands have disappeared or because they refuse to grant their wives a get (Jewish bill of divorce). The sanctions at the courts’ disposal include seizing bank accounts, suspending drivers’ licenses and even imprisonment.

Under the existing system, in which there is no civil option for divorce in Israel, every third woman seeking to divorce her husband is “subject to threats and blackmail,” explained Halperin-Kaddari, a current member and former vice president of the UN Expert Committee of CEDAW (Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

“When it comes to ultra-Orthodox women, and those women who are less educated,” she added, “the rate goes up to one in two.”

Batya Kahana-Dror, the executive director of Mavoi Satum, a local nonprofit that advocates on behalf of agunot, said at the conference that one out of every five women seeking a divorce in Israel is refused.

“There are about 3,000-4,000 women who join the cycle each year,” she said. “The only alternative is to create a civil option. Once there is competition, the Chief Rabbinate will find the solutions that already exist within halakha (traditional religious law).”

Bar-Ilan law professor Yedidia Stern was more optimistic.

“We are beginning to see some change,” said Stern, a member of the summit’s organizing committee and vice president of research at IDI. “The rabbinical judges are starting to feel the heat, there are more and more initiatives today designed to address the problem, the committee that appoints the rabbinical judges will now hopefully have women on it, and the Knesset has yet to weigh in and have its own impact. In fact, this conference couldn’t have been held 15 years ago because there wasn’t enough awareness of the problem or of the practical solutions in halakha.”

Stern said he supported the following solutions: appointing more progressive-minded members to the panel that appoints rabbinical judges, encouraging the Chief Rabbinate to promote prenuptial agreements more aggressively, passing a law enabling annulment of marriage under predetermined circumstances, and creating a legal option for civil unions.

“There are already several bills in the Knesset dealing with civil unions, but that doesn’t solve the problem for the many Israelis who still want to have a religious ceremony,” he noted.

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