Federal prosecutors announced the arrest Wednesday evening of two members of the Satmar Hasidic group accused of planning to kidnap and murder a man who had refused to grant his wife a religious divorce.
Shimen Liebowitz, 25, and Aharon Goldberg, 55, planned to pay $55,000 to a private investigator to arrange the kidnapping, according to prosecutors.
Liebowitz is a member of the Satmar Hasidic community in Kiryas Joel, New York, according to court documents. Goldberg, a rabbi who lives in Israel, is also a prominent member of the Kiryas Joel community. Their intended victim, apparently an Orthodox Jew, drives a taxi, according to court papers.
“Our country protects freedom of religious beliefs and practices, but no one is allowed to plot a kidnapping and murder regardless of their motivation,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director-in-charge William F. Sweeney Jr. in a press release.
Leibowitz and Goldberg were arrested Wednesday in Central Valley, New York, while meeting to plan the murder, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, led by Preet Bharara, charged both Leibowitz and Goldberg with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder for hire by prosecutors with the
It was not immediately clear whether Liebowitz or Goldberg had yet hired attorneys.
The FBI learned of the alleged plot after Leibowitz and Goldberg asked a Jewish private investigator for help kidnapping an unidentified man who had refused to give his wife a “get,” or a religious divorce required by observant Jews. The investigator pretended to be interested in cooperating, but instead reported the men to the FBI.
Leibowitz and Goldberg allegedly spoke with the investigator about kidnapping the man in Ukraine, where he planned to travel for Rosh Hashanah. Later, Goldberg allegedly told the investigator that he wanted the man killed, and not just kidnapped.
This case marks the second recent federal indictment of Orthodox rabbis accused of arranging to have men kidnapped for refusing to give their wives gets. In April 2015, three Orthodox men were convicted in federal court in New Jersey of conspiracy to commit kidnapping after being accused of operating a ring that used cattle prods to torture men who refused to give their wives gets.
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Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.