Rabbi sentenced for role in religious divorce coercion ring

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An Orthodox rabbi was sentenced Monday to more than three years in prison for his role in a ring of Jewish men who used brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture unwilling husbands into granting their wives religious divorces.

Martin Wolmark, 57, of Monsey, New York, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion. Ten men in all were convicted for their roles in the plot.

The plot began to unravel after Wolmark was recorded by an undercover federal agent who posed as a woman seeking a religious divorce, known as a “get.” Wolmark put the woman and another agent posing as her brother in touch with fellow Orthodox Rabbi Mendel Epstein, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Epstein was acquitted of attempted kidnapping.

Jewish law mandates that the get be presented by a husband to a wife to make a divorce official.

The female undercover FBI agent testified that Wolmark said she needed “special rabbis” to get the job done. He said Epstein was a “hired hand” who could be “very helpful” to them.

The two agents told Wolmark that the sister’s husband in Argentina wouldn’t divorce her, even after they were “shaken down” for more than $20,000. Wolmark warns the agents that it could be a costly process and recommends Mendel Epstein, according to the recording.

“You need to get him (the husband) to New York to harass him or nail him — plain and simple,” Wolmark is heard telling the agents.

After meeting with Epstein, Wolmark set up a rabbinical court that determined the husband could be coerced. Eight men then traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, with the intent of confronting the man.

Instead, they were arrested.

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