By William Sokolic
(Reuters) - Three Orthodox Jewish rabbis were convicted in New Jersey on Tuesday of conspiracy to commit kidnapping in a scheme to force men to grant divorces to their unhappy wives under Jewish law.
Two of the rabbis were convicted as well of attempted kidnapping in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, according to the office of Paul Fishman, U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
The case before U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson hinged in part on the testimony of an undercover FBI agent who posed as an Orthodox Jewish wife seeking a divorce.
An Orthodox Jewish woman cannot get a religious divorce unless her husband consents through a document known as a "get."
Prosecutors said the rabbis operated a ring that kidnapped or tried to kidnap men and tortured them with beatings and stun guns until they agreed to divorce.
Undercover agents recorded meetings in which arrangements were made for the ring to kidnap one husband at a New Jersey warehouse for $60,000, prosecutors said.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler were found guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
The conspiracy charge carries the possible sentence of life in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Sentencing was set for July 15.
Goldstein and Stimler also were convicted of attempted kidnapping.
Epstein’s son, David, was charged but found not guilty of conspiracy and kidnapping.
The jury deliberated for three days.
The ring operated from 2009 to 2013, prosecutors said.
Although a wife can skip seeking a get and settle for a civil divorce, the separation without the husband's consent can result in her being cast out of family and social circles.
Experts say such kidnapping schemes are responses to so-called get abuse, in which husbands demand an unreasonably large share of the couple's communal property before granting the divorce.
The convictions come about three months after another rabbi, 56-year-old Martin Wolmark, pleaded guilty in the same case to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to commit extortion.
Eight other people also have pleaded guilty in connection to the case, prosecutors said.
(Reporting by William Sokolic in New Jersey; Editing by Laila Kearney, Ellen Wulfhorst, Eric Walsh and Leslie Adler)