Legal Consultant on Divorce Extortion Cases Murdered in Florida
Dan Markel was a well-respected law professor at Florida State University. In 2011, he was a scholar-in-residence at NYU. His academic writing focused on punishment theory and he kept a legal blog. He wrote op-eds for the New York Times and the Atlantic. Recently, he was also hired as a consultant for the defendants accused of running a divorce extortion operation targeting Orthodox Jewish men in New York and New Jersey.
Earlier this month, Markel was killed. He was 41.
He was shot in the head while sitting in his car inside the garage of his house in Tallahassee, Florida, around 11 a.m. on July 18. Police released a photo of a silver Toyota Prius, which a neighbor had seen leaving the scene.
Shortly after Markel's death, the Tallahassee Police Department released a statement:
The initial investigation has provided no indication that this case is connected to a burglary or robbery and investigators are assuring residents there is no evidence this was a random act. Neighborhood residents should continue to be vigilant but it appears at this time that Mr. Markel was the intended victim in this incident.
On Monday, local station WCTV reported that Markel worked on the divorce extortion case.
In that case, which we detailed in a December feature story, New Jersey federal prosecutors accused Mendel Epstein and nine other men of kidnapping and assaulting Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives a get, the document required for a divorce under Jewish law. The men were arrested in October, following an FBI sting operation. An undercover agent posed as a desperate wife seeking Epstein's services and recorded their conversations.
The enforcers would beat the man until the man recited the oath in front of a rabbi. According to a transcript of the recorded conversations, Epstein noted that the enforcers sometimes used an electric cattle prod. A civil complaint from the mid-90s claimed that Martin Wolmark, a rabbi from upstate New York, was the rabbi who would take the get oath from the victim and make the divorce official.
Five of the enforcers have pleaded guilty. Each of them admitted to an August 2011 assault as well.
Epstein and Wolmark have not pleaded. They continue to fight their cases.
Wolmark's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, had hired Markel as "as an expert on conspiracy law."