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NY brothers admit guilt in violent Jewish divorce scheme

(Reuters) - Two Brooklyn brothers have admitted participating in a violent ring with rabbis that threatened Jewish husbands to agree to grant their wives a religious divorce, and they face possible lengthy prison terms, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Avrohom Goldstein, 34, and Moshe Goldstein, 31, were among 10 men, including their father and two Orthodox Jewish rabbis, arrested last fall in the alleged scheme in which they hired themselves out to unhappy wives who wanted their husbands kidnapped and beaten until they agreed to divorce, according to New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Orthodox Jewish women cannot get a divorce unless their husbands consent through a document known as a "get," and wives paid tens of thousands of dollars to the ring that would abduct and beat their husbands, prosecutors said at the time of the arrests in October.

The Goldsteins and several other men traveled to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, on October 9, 2013, where they were met by two FBI agents posing as an Orthodox Jewish wife and her brother in a sting operation, prosecutors said.

The pair were to pay $10,000 up front and another $50,000 for men who would beat her husband, they said.

Agents arrested the group at the warehouse.

Avrohom Goldstein pleaded guilty in Trenton federal court on Tuesday to traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion, and his brother pleaded guilty to the same charge on Monday, prosecutors said.

The Goldsteins also admitted that on August 22, 2011, they and others restrained, assaulted and injured a man in Brooklyn, also in an attempt to extort a divorce from him.

Experts say such schemes are in response to so-called "get abuse," in which husbands demand a larger share of the couple's communal property before granting the divorce.

While a "get" is not required for a civil divorce, that proceeding would not be recognized by Orthodox leaders and the couple would remain married under Jewish law.

A sentencing date of June 16 was set for Moshe Goldstein and June 20 for Avrohom Goldstein. They each face the possibility of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Last week, David Hellman, 31, a New York personal trainer, also pleaded guilty to being part of the violent ring. Hellman's sentencing is set for June 12.

The other seven men, including the brothers' father Jay Goldstein, 59, and the rabbis - Mendel Epstein, 68, and Martin Wolmark, 55 - still face criminal charges.

All but two of the men live in Brooklyn. The others live in Monsey, New York.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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