Israeli charged in New York over alleged kidnapping plot

September 12, 2016 7:17 PM EDT

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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Israeli citizen who serves as a divorce mediator within an Orthodox Jewish community in New York has been arrested and charged with conspiring to kidnap a man who had refused to grant his wife a religious divorce.

Binyamin Gottlieb, 33, was arrested by the FBI at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday as he prepared to board a Ukraine-bound flight, four days after charges were announced against an Israeli rabbi and another man over the same alleged scheme.

Those men, Aharon Goldberg, an Israel-based rabbi, and Shimen Liebowitz, a member of Satmar Hasidic community in Kiryas Joel, New York, were accused of conspiring to kidnap and murder the intended victim.

Prosecutors said a source, an Orthodox Jew who provided investigative services, contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July after being recruited by Goldberg and Liebowitz to kidnap a Brooklyn man.

The kidnapping was intended to have the man issue a "get," a document that would grant his wife a religious divorce, prosecutors said.

A criminal complaint said that at a July meeting, they discussed options including a suggestion by Gottlieb to kidnap the man in Ukraine, where he planned to go for the Jewish New Year in late September, and then flying him to Israel.

Authorities said that after that meeting, Gottlieb, an Israeli citizen who lives in Monsey, New York, gave $25,000 in cash to the source as payment.

In later meetings, Goldberg and Liebowitz discussed their desire to kidnap and kill the Brooklyn man, the complaint said.

Jacob Laufer, Gottlieb's lawyer, argued in court on Monday that his client, a self-employed divorce mediator, was at the "periphery" of the case, and should be released on a $2.5 million bond.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Hartman said Gottlieb was "intimately involved," and that evidence suggested he may have engaged in similar plots involving forced divorces.

"This wasn't Mr. Gottlieb's first rodeo," he said.

At a hearing on Monday, U.S. Magistrate James Cott denied Gottlieb bail, calling him a flight risk and saying he was "very concerned" by the kidnapping allegations.

Laufer declined to comment after the hearing. Susan Necheles, a lawyer for Liebowitz, said the informant "is a person who is totally incredible." A lawyer for Goldberg did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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