Rabbi sentenced to 10 years for leading a gang of men who used electric cattle prods and handcuffs to torture Jewish husbands reluctant to divorce their unhappy wives
- WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
- Mendel Epstein from Brooklyn, New York, was dubbed 'The Prodfather'
- Beat the men so they would comply after the women paid them thousands
- Gang of ten men used rope to tie up victims and masks to intimidate them
- The expert in Orthodox Jewish matrimonial law was convicted on April 21
- Epstein told a court the last two years had been a 'living hell' for him
- He added: 'When I listen to the tapes, I'm embarrassed and ashamed'
Mendel Epstein, 70, from Brooklyn, New York, who was dubbed 'The Prodfather', has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars for torturing husbands who were unwilling to divorce their unhappy wives
A rabbi who used electric cattle prods and handcuffs to torture husbands who were reluctant to give their wives religious divorces has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Mendel Epstein, 70, from Brooklyn, New York, who was dubbed 'The Prodfather', was the leader of a gang who would beat the men into submission to make them comply after receiving thousands of dollars from their other halves.
They also used rope to tie up their victims and wore Halloween masks and balaclavas to intimidate them.
The well-known expert in Orthodox Jewish matrimonial law was convicted on April 21 after an eight-week trial on one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, along with two other rabbis including Martin Wolmark, 57.
The plot began to unravel after Wolmark was recorded by an undercover federal agent who posed as a woman seeking a religious divorce, known as a 'get.'
Epstein told District Judge Freda Wolfson that he got caught up in his tough-guy image, which he says helped him persuade men to give their wives the religious divorces.
He says he was helping the women out of a sense of compassion because they couldn't remarry without it.
A judge rejected pleas from Epstein's daughter for leniency, and told him her must serve at least eight-and-a-half years in prison.
But he did say that he could surrender to authorities on March 1 and begin his jail term then.
In a 10-minute address to the court prior to learning his fate, Epstein took responsibility for his actions, the Ashbury Park Press reported.
'The last two-plus years have been a living hell, and I have only myself to blame,' he told the court.
'When I listen to the tapes, I'm embarrassed and ashamed,' he said, referring to a series of incriminating comments he made on the FBI's surveillance videos and audio tapes, which turned out to be the most damaging evidence against him.
The well-known expert in Orthodox Jewish matrimonial law was convicted on April 21 after an eight-week trial on one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He is pictured outside court in February
The FBI released graphic images taken during the investigation. Including this one of a man who was tied up and beaten by the gang
'In them, he describes using kidnapping, cattle prods, phony license plates, an untraceable cell phone and 'muscle men' in an effort to force resistant husbands to grant their wives a 'get,' or Jewish divorce decree.
'I feel when I watch the tapes I'm in the midst of a root canal,' he added.
Wolmark put the woman and another agent posing as her brother in touch with fellow Orthodox Rabbi Mendel Epstein, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Epstein was acquitted of attempted kidnapping.
Jewish law mandates that the get be presented by a husband to a wife to make a divorce official.
The female undercover FBI agent testified that Wolmark said she needed 'special rabbis' to get the job done. He said Epstein was a 'hired hand' who could be 'very helpful' to them.
The two agents told Wolmark that the sister's husband in Argentina wouldn't divorce her, even after they were 'shaken down' for more than $20,000. Wolmark warns the agents that it could be a costly process and recommends Mendel Epstein, according to the recording.
One of the men who was beaten into a submission is pictured being treated in a hospital bed
This plastic Halloween mask was one of the face covers the gang used when they staged their attacks
The gang used a variety of devices to try and force their victims in submission. This was a blade found during a raid on a New Jersey warehouse that was part of the investigation
'You need to get him (the husband) to New York to harass him or nail him — plain and simple,' Wolmark is heard telling the agents.
After meeting with Epstein, Wolmark set up a rabbinical court that determined the husband could be coerced. Eight men then traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, with the intent of confronting the man.
Instead, they were arrested.
The men even brought vodka to the tortures. It is not known whether they drunk it themselves or fed it to their array of victims
Investigators also found rope in the bank of one of the vans the men used