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Rabbi in forced-divorces case convicted of kidnap conspiracy

TRENTON, New Jersey -- An Orthodox rabbi accused of using brutal tactics to force unwilling Jewish men to divorce their wives was convicted on Tuesday of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

But the federal jury in Rabbi Mendel Epstein's case rendered a mixed verdict, acquitting him of attempted kidnapping.

Epstein's son was acquitted of conspiracy and kidnapping counts. Two other rabbis were convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.

Epstein and his colleagues were accused of employing a kidnap team and using brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture unwilling Jewish husbands to grant a get, or a religious divorce, to their wives, according to CBS New York. Jurors deliberated for three days after an eight-week trial before a Trenton U.S. District Judge, reports the station.

Prosecutors reportedly accused the defendants in four incidents, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, the most recent of which involved undercover agents after the FBI had begun a surveillance operation.

The defense acknowledged some crimes may have been committed but said Epstein was not part of a kidnapping conspiracy. A defense lawyer argued that Epstein was "puffing and exaggerating" when he talked to undercover FBI agents in a meeting that was recorded on video and shown during the trial.

Epstein, as he left the courtroom on Tuesday, told that the jury's verdict perplexed him. He and the other two rabbis, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler, both of New York, could face life terms when they are sentenced in July.

Lawyers for the rabbis said they planned to appeal the convictions.

"We don't think this can be considered a traditional kidnapping in any way, shape or form," Goldstein attorney Aidan O'Connor said.

O'Connor said the mixed verdict shows jurors apparently rejected some of the testimony against the defendants.

Nine other people charged in the case pleaded guilty to various charges before the trial began.

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