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FBI charges Lev Tahor leaders with child exploitation

New York’s FBI and U.S. Attorney’s offices have charged five leaders of Lev Tahor, a Jewish cult, with child exploitation after the men kidnapped a 14-year-old girl in 2018, the Department of Justice said in a press release Monday.

Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner, Yakov Weingarten, Shmiel Weingarten and Yoil Weingarten brought the girl from New York to Mexico with the intention of returning her to Guatemala, where Lev Tahor is now based, after the girl and her mother escaped the cult in 2018. According to the release, they were planning to reunite her with her “husband” from a religious marriage, who was 20.

“The defendants engaged in a brazen kidnapping of a minor girl in the middle of the night, taking her across the border to Mexico in order to reunite her with her adult ‘husband’ to continue their sexual relationship,” said the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, in a statement. “These charges send a clear message that the sexual exploitation of children will not be tolerated.”

Helbrans, the leader of the cult, arranged a religious marriage for the girl, his niece, in 2017 when she was only 12 years old. Her match was at that point an 18-year-old man, Jacob Rosner. Rosner is also being charged with conspiring to kidnap the girl.

The justice department said in its release that local, federal and international law enforcement officials found the girl after a three-week search, and that the men tried to kidnap her and her brother again in March of 2019 and once again last month.

Lev Tahor is an extremist sect previously based in New York and Canada. The group is characterized by strict control, physical beatings and child marriage. Lev Tahor leadership asks, according to the press release, that child brides have babies inside of their homes to conceal their ages from hospital workers and the public. Lev Tahor has been seeking to move to Iran to escape increasing scrutiny from Guatemalan authorities.

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