Three Men Sentenced In Connection With Plot To Kidnap And Murder Husband Who Refused To Grant His Wife A Religious Divorce
Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that AHARON GOLDBERG, SHIMEN LIEBOWITZ, and BINYAMIN GOTTLIEB were sentenced today for their respective roles in devising and covering up a plot to kidnap and murder an individual in order to obtain a religious divorce for that individual’s wife. GOLDBERG pled guilty on September 28, 2017, to conspiring to commit kidnapping and murder for hire. LIEBOWITZ pled guilty on July 27, 2017, to conspiring to commit extortion. GOTTLIEB pled guilty on September 15, 2017, to helping to conceal the plot from law enforcement. U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein, who presided over today’s sentencings, sentenced GOLDBERG to three years in prison, LIEBOWITZ to two years in prison, and GOTTLIEB to one year’s probation.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “The defendants were involved in a terrifying plot to kidnap, and ultimately to kill, their intended victim. Fortunately, the person they hired to carry out their crime alerted the FBI, and now the defendants have been held accountable for their crimes.”
According to the Complaints and statements made during court proceedings and in public filings:
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 or about July 2016, the defendants AHARON GOLDBERG and SHIMEN LIEBOWITZ began working to orchestrate the kidnapping of an individual who refused to grant a get to his wife (the “Intended Victim”). The purpose of the kidnapping was to imprison and torture the Intended Victim until he agreed to give his wife a get. BINYAMIN GOTTLIEB, an associate of GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ, placed them in touch with a private investigator (the “CS”), whom GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ solicited to personally carry out the kidnapping and torture in exchange for payment. Unbeknownst to GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ, however, the CS reported the plot to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and recorded several of his meetings with the defendants.
In July 2016, the CS met with GOLDBERG, in GOTTLIEB’s presence, to discuss the kidnapping plot. Although LIEBOWITZ was not present at the beginning of the meeting, he arrived and joined the conversation after several minutes. The CS made an audio recording of the meeting using a hidden recording device. During the meeting and after LIEBOWITZ arrived, the parties discussed, among other things, the logistics of the kidnapping plot, including the possibility of kidnapping the Intended Victim in the United States and holding him captive in a cage, or kidnapping him in Ukraine and transporting him to Israel. LIEBOWITZ also provided the CS with details to assist the CS in carrying out the kidnapping plot. During the meeting, GOLDBERG and LIEBOWITZ also agreed to advance the CS $25,000 to assist in efforts to plan the kidnapping. 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.
Subsequently, on September 6, 2016, LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG again met with the CS. During that meeting, LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG paid the CS an additional $16,000. The CS led LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG to believe that the CS had captured the Intended Victim, had tortured the Intended Victim in order to force him to provide a get, and that the Intended Victim had so far refused to do so. The CS discussed options for what to do with the Intended Victim given his unwillingness to give the get. GOLDBERG replied by referencing his prior directive to the CS to kill the Intended Victim: “I’ve told you whatever I’ve told you, and I even got an okay from one of the rabbis. He [the Intended Victim] cannot slip out of your fingers.” LIEBOWITZ then interjected, “I’m on his side, whatever he says I’m with him.” GOLDBERG resolved that the only way forward was to put a bullet in the Intended Victim. LIEBOWITZ interjected that if LIEBOWITZ were to be killed, arrangements would have to be made to ensure that there was a witness who could verify that the Intended Victim was dead (and that the wife could remarry) without leading back to LIEBOWITZ and his co-conspirators. LIEBOWITZ later stated, “Somebody is going to need to tell a rabbi that I have saw” with respect to the death of the Intended Victim. GOLDBERG and the CS then discussed the possibility of burying the Intended Victim and seeing to it that his body was exhumed and identified using DNA. LIEBOWITZ interjected, “There is no way to put him out on the street somewhere?” The September 6 conversation ended with FBI agents arresting LIEBOWITZ and GOLDBERG.
On September 11, 2016, FBI agents interviewed GOTTLIEB about his knowledge of the plot. At that time, Gottlieb stated that he had no knowledge of any conversation where the plot was discussed, despite the fact that he had been present at the initial meeting between the CS, GOLDBERG, and LIEBOWITZ.
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In addition to their prison sentences, GOLDBERG, 56, of Bnei Brak, Israel, and LIEBOWITZ, 26, of Monroe, New York, were each sentenced to three years of supervised release. GOTTLIEB 34, is from Airmont, New York.
Mr. Kim 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.