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Orthodox Rabbis Charged In Religious Divorce Plot

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Four Orthodox Jewish rabbis and one of their sons conspired to kidnap and force Jewish men into granting their wives religious divorces, according to a federal indictment handed up on Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said several of the men charged Thursday are among a larger group previously charged in the alleged plot.

Rabbi Mendel Epstein and his son, David Epstein, both of Lakewood, N.J.; Rabbi Martin Wolmark of Monsey, New York, and Rabbis Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler, both of Brooklyn, New York, are charged with kidnapping conspiracy and related charges.

The U.S. attorney's office alleges the rabbis charged Jewish women and their families tens of thousands of dollars to obtain religious divorces, known as "gets," from unwilling husbands through the threat of force.

Attorneys for Goldstein, Wolmark and Stimler said their clients denied the charges.

Goldstein's attorney, Aiden O'Connor, said the case was "overcharged" and failed to take into account the individual circumstances of the women who had been seeking divorces.

"This is not a kidnapping matter," O'Connor said. "These women were locked in terrible marriages."

Benjamin Brafman, an attorney for Wolmark, issued a statement calling the charges false, and added his client was a Talmudic scholar and expert in Jewish divorce who had resolved hundreds of marital disputes, always through legal means.

Rabbi Stimler's attorney, Nathan Lewin, said his client denied the allegations that he was a member of a "kidnap team." He said that Stimler is sought out because of his expertise in religious divorces, which he has always conducted through legal means.

Messages left for attorneys representing Mendel Epstein and David Epstein were not immediately returned.

Only a husband can initiate divorce by issuing the get, but a wife has the right to sue for divorce in rabbinical court, according to the complaint.

"Without a get you are still married in the eyes of the community," Benny Rogosnitzky, a New York cantor and a representative of the Frum Divorce organization, told CBS News' Crimesider in October. Even if a civil court grants the divorce, a woman without a get is forbidden to date or remarry within the religion.

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