N.Y. rabbi pleads guilty in divorce extortion scheme

Uriel Heilman

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Martin Wolmark pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort a Jewish man who was refusing to give his wife a religious writ of divorce.

The Orthodox rabbi from Monsey, N.Y., offered his plea in a New Jersey federal court on Wednesday. Wolmark is facing up five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He was accused of being part of a gang of eight that used violence to coerce recalcitrant husbands into granting the religious writs of divorce. Under Orthodox Jewish law, a wife cannot divorce without obtaining the writ, known as a get, from her husband.

Other men involved in the gang were charged with beating a recalcitrant husband and using a stun gun on his fingers and genitals in November 2009.

Wolmark, who uses the first name Mordechai, was caught in an FBI sting operation in October 2013 in which federal agents posing as a Jewish woman and her brother sought the gang’s services. The “husband” was to be assaulted at a warehouse in Edison, N.J. When Wolmark and the other men arrived at the warehouse wearing masks and carrying rope, surgical knives and a screwdriver, they were arrested.

In all, eight men were arrested in connection with the scheme, including four rabbis. Seven have pleaded guilty, according to the office of the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Reuters reported.

Wolmark will be sentenced on May 18.