Lakewood rabbi’s divorce-coercion conviction upheld on appeal
Orthodox Rabbi Mendel Epstein of Lakewood, and two others found guilty at trial in what federal prosecutors said was an orchestrated scheme to abduct and force Jewish men to grant their wives religious divorces, fail to convince appellate judges to overturn the verdicts.
A terse message from the office of acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said that the convictions of Epstein and Rabbis Benyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein were upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The defendants were among 10 sentenced in connection with the case that developed in 2009, and reached from Lakewood to Edison, Brooklyn, and Monsey, New York.
In December 2015, Epstein was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a mandatory eight-and-a-half years before parole consideration. Stimler was given a 30-month sentence.
Prosecutors said that husbands who refused to authorize sanctioned divorces, or "gets," were beaten into submission, for fees in the tens of thousands of dollars. Undercover investigators, under the guise of a wife and her brother, infiltrated the network.
Among claims raised by defense attorneys were violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and a constitutional challenge of a federal law, authorities said.