Alleged rabbi divorce torture service cost up to $70K, FBI investigators say

FBI raids a Rockland County Yeshiva in an investigation of violent crimes against divorcing Jewish men.
CBS New York

(CBS News) Two rabbis are in jail this Friday, accused in a kidnapping and torture plot. The targets: men who refuse to divorce their wives. The case has its roots in the little-known traditions of some orthodox Jews.

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FBI: Orthodox Jewish men were kidnapped, tortured in dispute over divorce, report says

A six-month sting ended with FBI raids in New York and New Jersey -- including at the home of Rabbi Mendel Epstein. The 68-year-old, the FBI says, ordered torture. The tools: "electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs, and ... plastic bags" placed over the heads of husbands to force them into granting their wives a divorce.

Wally Zeins, a former New York Police Department detective, said, referring to the details of the case, "It scares me. It's like a movie out of Hollywood. It's like 'The Godfather.' It's torture.

Zeins spent six months undercover investigating crimes in Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods, where getting a divorce can be nearly impossible. The husband must agree, and provide his wife a document known as a get.

According to a federal complaint, that's where Epstein, another rabbi, and two enforcers came in. Epstein, according to documents, said on a wiretap, "basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple ... hours and beating him up and torturing him and getting him to give the get."

He continued, "We take an electric cattle prod ... You put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know."

The price tag for that service was between $60,000 and $70,000, investigators say.

Zeins said, "It's a whole different way of life. The women want to get out of that marriage and they will pay whatever it takes."

In this case, the "wife" was actually an undercover agent. If convicted, Epstein and three other defendants all face life in prison on the kidnapping charges.

Watch Jeff Glor's full report above.