Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Admits Conspiring to Travel to New Jersey to Violently Extort Divorce Consent from Reluctant Husband
TRENTON, NJ—An Orthodox Jewish rabbi today admitted conspiring to travel to New Jersey to coerce a Jewish man to give his wife a religious divorce—referred to as a “get”—through threats of violence, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Martin Wolmark, 56, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to commit extortion.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
On Aug. 7, 2013, Wolmark, an ordained Orthodox Jewish rabbi, spoke with a woman and her brother about obtaining a Jewish divorce from the woman’s recalcitrant husband. A get is a divorce document which, according to Jewish Law, must be presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce. Unbeknownst to Wolmark, the woman and the brother were actually undercover FBI agents. During the conversation, which was recorded by law enforcement, Wolmark informed the agents that there were two ways to go about obtaining a get from such a recalcitrant husband, one of which was to “nail him.” Wolmark also told the agents that coercing the husband into giving a get could be expensive. He then recommended that the agents speak with his colleague, Mendel Epstein, who he knew had previously used violence to coerce recalcitrant husbands into giving gets to their wives. Wolmark then initiated a conference call with the agents and Mendel Epstein.
On Aug. 14, 2013, the agents met with Mendel Epstein at his home to discuss the case further. On Oct. 2, 2013, Wolmark convened a rabbinical court (a “beth din”) with Mendel Epstein and Jay Goldstein in his office in Suffern, New York. The purpose of this proceeding was to determine whether there were grounds under Jewish law to coerce the husband into giving the get. The female agent also attended and recorded the meeting. During this meeting, Mendel Epstein discussed openly the plan to kidnap and assault the purported husband in order to obtain the get.
On Oct. 9, 2013, a group of Wolmark’s conspirators—including Jay Goldstein, Moshe Goldstein, Avrohom Goldstein, Simcha Bulmash, Ariel Potash, Binyamin Stimler, and Sholom Shuchat—traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, with the intent of forcing the purported husband to give his wife a get by means of violence and threats of violence. Six of these coconspirators previously pleaded guilty to traveling to New Jersey to commit extortion.
The conspiracy count to which Wolmark pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for May 18, 2015.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark, for the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko and Sarah Wolfe of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton.
The pending charges and allegations against related defendants are merely allegations, and they are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.