Orthodox rabbi pleads guilty in New Jersey kidnap scheme

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2015 6:04 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Orthodox Jewish rabbi pleaded guilty on Wednesday to playing a role in a scheme to kidnap Jewish men and force them to grant divorces to their unhappy wives, said federal authorities in New Jersey.

Martin Wolmark, 56, pleaded guilty to conspiring to travel to New Jersey to coerce a man to give his wife a "get" - a religious document that Orthodox Jewish women are required to get from their husbands in order to secure a divorce, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement.

Experts say such kidnapping schemes are responses to so-called "get abuse," in which husbands demand a larger share of the couple's communal property before granting the divorce.

Wolmark was accused of speaking with a woman and her brother - who were actually undercover FBI agents - in August 2013 about obtaining a "get" from the woman's recalcitrant husband.

Wolmark was among four rabbis and four co-conspirators who were accused in the scheme in which the kidnapped victim was to be assaulted at a warehouse in October 2013, according to the criminal complaint. The rabbis wore bandannas and Halloween masks and brought rope, surgical blades, and a screwdriver to carry out the beating, the complaint said.

They were arrested at the warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. So far, all but one of the co-conspirators have pleaded guilty to traveling to New Jersey to commit extortion, said Matthew Reilly, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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Wolmark faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on May 18.

"Rabbi Martin Wolmark has agreed to accept responsibility for his limited participation in a conspiracy," Wolmark's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement. "He looks forward to bringing this chapter of his life to a close."

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)