TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An Orthodox rabbi accused of using brutal tactics to force unwilling Jewish men to divorce their wives was "puffing and exaggerating" when he talked to undercover FBI agents, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Attorney Robert Stahl said during his closing argument that, while some crimes may have been committed, Mendel Epstein was not part of a kidnapping conspiracy.
Stahl said Epstein was "puffing" to put at ease a woman who told him she was desperate for a divorce to start a new life. The woman was an undercover FBI agent.
Epstein faces charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping with his son and two other Orthodox rabbis. The charges stem from a staged kidnapping in 2013 and three other forced divorces, prosecutors say.
Closing arguments were expected to continue Wednesday, but it's unclear when the jury will get the case.
Prosecutors have alleged the rabbi's team used brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture the men into granting divorces. The kidnap team took surgical blades, a screwdriver and rope to the 2013 staged kidnapping, authorities have said.
Epstein told the undercover agents he arranged similar kidnappings every year or year and a half, prosecutors said during the trial.