Rabbi arrested in New York divorce scheme involving kidnapping, murder

September 7, 2016 8:47 PM EDT

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(Reuters) - A rabbi and another Orthodox Jewish man were arrested in New York in connection with a plot to kidnap and murder a man whose wife wanted to divorce him, federal officials said on Wednesday.

Israel-based rabbi Aharon Goldberg, 55, and Shimen Liebowitz, 25, were taken into custody in Central Valley, New York, while meeting to discuss the plot on Tuesday, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

The statement said they were charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and conspiracy to commit murder for hire.

Xavier Donaldson, an attorney for Goldberg, declined to comment when reached by email on Wednesday night. An attorney for Liebowitz, who prosecutors said is a member of Satmar Hasidic community in Kiryas Joel, New York, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Prosecutors said Liebowitz and Goldberg recruited an individual to carry out the crimes and force the man to issue a document called a "get" to allow his wife to divorce him.

An Orthodox Jewish woman cannot get a religious divorce unless her husband consents through a get, according to prosecutors. Without the document, a divorce can only occur if the husband dies.

Prosecutors said the recruit contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July about the plot and began recording their conversations.

The group discussed kidnapping, torturing and forcing the get from the target while the intended victim was in the United States or on a planned trip to Ukraine, prosecutors said. As the plotting continued, the group decided they wanted the victim murdered as well, prosecutors allege.

In total, the pair paid the informant around $60,000 to carry out the kidnapping and murder.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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