Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Arrest Of Rabbi And Member Of Satmar Community For Conspiring To Kidnap And Murder
Goal of the Alleged Scheme Was to Obtain a Religious Divorce for the Victim's Wife
Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the filing of a federal criminal complaint charging SHIMEN LIEBOWITZ and AHARON GOLDBERG with conspiring to kidnap and murder an individual in order to obtain a religious divorce for that individual’s wife. LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG were arrested yesterday in Central Valley, New York, while meeting to plan the kidnapping and murder. They will be presented later today before Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman in federal court in Manhattan.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The defendants are charged with a chilling plot to kidnap and murder the intended victim. Over a period of months, the Complaint alleges, they met repeatedly to plan the kidnapping and to pay more than $55,000 to an individual they believed would carry it out. Thanks to the exemplary work of our partners at the FBI and NYPD, Liebowitz and Goldberg are now in custody.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “As if the plan to kidnap the victim and force him to divorce his wife in this alleged conspiracy wasn’t bad enough, the plotters allegedly decided halfway through the arrangement to go a step further and add murder to the list of their planned crimes. Our country protects freedom of religious beliefs and practices, but no one is allowed to plot a kidnapping and murder regardless of their motivation.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
According to Jewish religious law as observed in certain communities, in order to effect a divorce, a husband must provide his wife with a document known as a “get.” A woman whose husband will not consent to a divorce is known as an “agunah.” In the absence of the husband’s issuing a get, an agunah may be released from her marriage only through the husband’s death.
In early July, an individual (the “CS”) contacted the FBI and reported that the CS had been recruited by LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG to kidnap a particular individual (the “Intended Victim”) in order to force the Intended Victim to issue a get to his wife. Like the CS, GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ are orthodox Jews. LIEBOWITZ is a member of the Satmar community in Kiryas Joel, New York (a village in Orange County, New York), and GOLDBERG is an Israel-based rabbi who also maintains a position of prominence in Kiryas Joel.
The CS provided the FBI with information about a conversation he had with LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG on or about July 6 or July 7. During the meeting, which was recorded, the CS feigned interest in participating in the kidnapping. He, GOLDBERG, and LIEBOWITZ discussed how such a kidnapping might be carried out, including the possibility of luring the Intended Victim to Pennsylvania in order to kidnap him, torture him, and force him to give the get. The CS, GOLDBERG, and LIEBOWITZ also discussed the possibility of kidnapping the Intended Victim in Ukraine, where the Intended Victim planned to travel in late September to celebrate the Jewish New Year. GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ agreed to advance the CS $25,000 to assist in efforts to plan the kidnapping. According to the CS, within days of this initial meeting, an envelope containing approximately $25,000 cash was delivered to the CS.
On or about August 9, 2016, the CS met with LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG in Kiryas Joel, New York. During this meeting, the CS, GOLDBERG, and LIEBOWITZ discussed additional details of the kidnapping plan, including logistics and the cost associated with a plan to kidnap the Intended Victim overseas. This conversation was also recorded.
On August 12, 2016, the CS again met with LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG, at which time they provided the CS with an additional payment of over $20,000 for use in making arrangements for the kidnapping. In this meeting, which was also recorded, the CS, GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ further discussed their plan to kidnap the Intended Victim in the United States and to obtain the get from him in this country.
Subsequent to the August 12, 2016, meeting, the CS had additional conversations with GOLDBERG, in which GOLDBERG discussed his desire not merely to kidnap the Intended Victim, but also to kill him.
On August 25, 2016, the CS met LIEBOWITZ in Central Valley, New York. During the meeting, LIEBOWITZ paid the CS an additional sum of about $12,000 to carry out the kidnapping. Also during the meeting, the CS spoke by phone with GOLDBERG, who was still in Israel, about the kidnapping plan, which the CS and GOLDBERG referred to in code as a “wedding,” as well as GOLDBERG’s desire that the CS kill the Intended Victim. This conversation was also recorded.
On or about September 2, 2016, the CS had another recorded conversation with LIEBOWITZ, during which LIEBOWITZ indicated his understanding that the Intended Victim would be murdered as part of the plan.
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LIEBOWITZ, 25, of Monroe, New York, and GOLDBERG, 55, of Bnei Brak, Israel, are charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum potential sentence of life in prison, and one count each of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department, working through the Joint Organized Crime Task Force.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit and Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Scott Hartman and Paul M. Monteleoni are in charge of the prosecution.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.