BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Monsey – Ten men, including the head of a Monsey yeshiva, are believed to have been involved in a bizarre criminal operation which may have been involved in dozens of plots to kidnap and torture Orthodox men until they agreed to grant their wives religious divorces.
Rabbi Mordechai “Martin” Wolmark and Ariel Potash, both from Monsey, were arrested on Wednesday, October 9 as part of an FBI raid on their alleged activities in Monsey, Lakewood, Brooklyn and other areas. According to prosecutors, they took payments in the tens of thousands of dollars from Jewish women who required their reluctant husbands’ approvals before they could divorce.
Eight others are also believed to be involved in a series of plots to kidnap and coerce the men into granting the divorces, or “gets,” though only four have been charged thus far. (?) Jewish law requires a husband to grant his wife a get before a woman can leave a marriage, but not all men are willing to grant them.
As part of the plot, Wolmark and his accomplices allegedly used beatings and even a cattle prod to coerce handcuffed husbands into granting gets. One victim explained that along with a savage beating that injured his ribs, they also broke his fingers to force his compliance.
“These gets aren’t kosher,” The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said to the New York Daily News. “They force it. It destroyed me.”
According to U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case, money was the motivation for the operation. The gang would charge tens of thousands of dollars to have a rabbinic court approve the schemes and employ hired muscle to intimidate husbands, raking in anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 from every job.
“They didn’t do it out of religious conviction,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko said in a Trenton court last Thursday. “They did it for the money.”
Though prosecutors argue religion was not involved, the plot also allegedly involved Rabbi Mendel Epstein, a prominent Brooklyn rabbi who has spoken on behalf of “agunah,” Jewish women who are forced to stay with their husbands after being refused a get.
The FBI gathered evidence through a sting operation where one agent posed as a Jewish woman who wanted to coerce her husband into a divorce and another posed as her brother. The agent first contacted Wolmark and Epstein in August before meeting with Epstein at his home in Ocean County, New Jersey.
During recorded talks with the men, Epstein explained the plot in detail and argued the use of cattle prods was meant to avoid leaving marks on victims which may be used as evidence in prosecutions.
“I guarantee you that if you’re in the van, you’d give a get to your wife,” Epstein told the agent posing as the woman’s brother.”
After the meeting, the agent posing as the brother wired Epstein $20,000 as an initial deposit and received assurances that the process would not take long.
The case may be connected to a similar case leveled against David Wax in 2011, who allegedly worked with two men to coerce a get out of a man by luring him to Lakewood from New York, binding him, placing him in a body bag and threatening to bury him in the Pocono Mountains.