Simcha Bulmash Is the Fourth Person to Plead Guilty in Divorce Extortion Case

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Brian Stauffer
Our December cover story on the divorce extortions.
The convictions in the divorce extortion case keep rolling in this month. On Tuesday Simcha Bulmash, 30, pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to participating in the kidnapping and assault scheme that targeted Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives a divorce. He is the fourth to do so over the last three weeks.

Like the three before him, Bulmash was arrested in an October 2013 FBI string operation that led to charges against 10 men, including Mendel Epstein, the divorce broker from Brooklyn accused of orchestrating the plot. And also like the other three others who have pleaded guilty, Bulmash admitted that the October 2013 incident was not the first time he had participated in the scheme.

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Accomplice Pleads Guilty in Divorce Extortion Case Against Mendel Epstein

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Brian Stauffer
Our December cover story on the divorce extortions.
On Thursday, David Hellmen, a 31-year-old personal trainer from Brooklyn, became the first person to plead guilty to participating in the kidnapping and extortion scheme that targeted Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives a divorce.

Hellmen was arrested in a New Jersey FBI sting in October 2013. The sting led to charges against ten men, including Mendel Epstein, the rabbi accused of leading the operation. In addition to admitting to the October plan, Hellmen confessed to another incident: "that on Aug. 22, 2011, he and others went to a residence in Brooklyn where they restrained, assaulted and injured a man in an attempt to extort a divorce from him," the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey said in a statement.

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"Homo Demons" Pastor James David Manning Says Obama Ordered Everybody To Start Ignoring Him Again

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Image via Facebook
Pastor Manning.
Last week, we heard from Harlem pastor James David Manning, who put a rather controversial sign in front of his ATLAH World Missionary Church declaring that President Obama had "released the homo demons on the black man." He follow that up with a videotaped sermon, delivered through his website, that expounded on the dangers of the Obama-controlled "white homosexual man," who has been loosed on the black community, especially black women. The white homosexual male's special weapons are demonry, of course, as well as their enjoyment of the theater.

It was a pretty spectacular display of nutballery, and ATLAH's sign went viral. A whole lot of news outlets covered it, and then, just as quickly, everybody was done covering it. Some might argue that's just the nature of a one-day, novelty news story about a wacky guy. But Pastor James David Manning, homo demon hunter, knows the real reason nobody's writing about him anymore: Barack Obama.

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Harlem Pastor James David Manning Very Upset About Obama-Controlled "Homo Demons"

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Image via ATLAH's Facebook page.
The sign in front of ATLAH this week.
If you're not familiar with James David Manning, the pastor of ATLAH World Church at Lenox and 123rd in Harlem, his latest video, released through his website yesterday, will serve as a pretty good overview for his particular and rather eccentric brand of old-time religion. The video begins with Pastor Manning speaking about the "catastrophic crisis of the absence of males in the home" in the African-American community, adding, "Black women are having a hard time finding black men to marry."

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Former Bronx Pastor and High School Principal Michael Clare Pleads Guilty to Raping Two Teenagers

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Screenshot via YouTube
Michael Clare, 2009
Four years ago, Michael Clare was a married pastor at Harvest Worship Center in the Bronx, as well as a principal at Harvest Preparatory Academy, also in the Bronx. Three years ago, in March 2011, he'd made a swift and thorough fall from grace, after a teenage girl, a member of his congregation, then 15, told her parents that Clare had been sexually abusing her since she was 12 years old. Clare was charged with first-degree rape and offered a plea deal that would have required just three years in prison, a very generous offer considering that the teenager had become pregnant, had an abortion, and DNA from the fetus had reportedly been matched to Clare.

Clare rejected that deal, with his attorney Paul Brenner telling the Daily News, "He turned down the plea deal because he's innocent." Clare remained free on a $50,000 bond. And then, in March 2012, he was accused of rape again , this time a 14-year-old student at Harvest Prep.

On Wednesday, January 15, Clare, who is now 41, was convicted of two counts of rape in the second degree.

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Bad Rabbi: Some See Prenups as Solution to Agunot Problem

Categories: Judaism, Religion

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Brian Stauffer
Mendel Epstein, subject of last week's feature story, was allegedly able to operate his illicit kidnapping-and-divorce-coercion business for three decades because there was a demand for it. He'd stepped into a vacuum that had existed since ancient times: a desperate wife has few, if any, options if her husband refuses to grant them a get, the document required for a divorce to proceed under Jewish law.

She can get help from an advocacy group like the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (Hebrew for "chained women"), who will try to persuade the husband with a variety of social and economic pressures. She can try to get the marriage annulled, a process that applies in very few cases. If neither of those efforts work, there is no other legal recourse.

Because the agonot problem is so challenging on the back-end, many rabbis have recently begun lobbying for a fix on the front end: prenuptial agreements.

"The best solution in the long run is prenups where get is pre-agreed if marriage breaks down," says Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of Beth Din of America, a Manhattan-based rabbinical court that handles more cases than any beth din outside Israel.

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Bad Rabbi: The Court Documents Behind the Story

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Brooklyn Supreme Court
A photo of Abraham Rubin from his civil lawsuit case file, allegedly shot after he was kidnapped and assaulted.
This week's feature story, "Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community," explored the three decades' worth of allegations against Mendel Epstein, a rabbi who has been charged with kidnapping and beating husbands who refuse to grant their wives a divorce.

Interviews with community members and court documents illuminated Epstein's reported operation, which hovered just below the surface of Brooklyn's rabbinical court system.

The earliest of these court documents are from a civil lawsuit filed by Abraham Rubin, who was kidnapped and beaten in 1996. More recent documents include a civil complaint filed by Yisrael Bryskman, who was beaten in 2010, and the October 2013 federal indictment accusing Epstein and nine others of conspiring to commit a kidnapping.

Here are some of those relevant documents:

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Street Preacher Reverend Billy and Choir Director Charged With Rioting After Toad-Hat-Wearing Protest in a Chase Bank

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Photo by Eric McGregor. Image via Facebook.
Reverend Billy and the choir mid-protest. Nehemiah Luckett is at left in the yellow shirt.
Two New York activists are facing a battery of misdemeanor charges, including rioting, for a fifteen-minute musical protest they staged at a Chase Bank in Midtown last month. They were wearing toad hats at the time.

For more than a decade, Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir were mostly concerned with, you know, shopping, wading into Macy's and Victoria's Secret and the Times Square Toys R Us to stage mock-religious revivals against consumerism. In recent years, the choir's activism has focused less on individual greed than on the corporate kind, with a special focus on business practices that ruin the environment.

"The shopping that matters most now is dirty coal, mountaintop removal, fracking and tar sands," Reverend Billy writes on the group's Facebook page. And for the past four years, the choir has also been staging protests at banks around the city, saying they're partly responsible for ruining the planet, particularly banks who finance that mountaintop removal, a controversial form of coal-mining.

As you can imagine, Reverend Billy gets arrested a lot.

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New Jersey Caves, Grants American Atheists President His "Offensive" Godless License Plate

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Image via American Atheists
Dave Silverman with a retired "ATHEIST" plate.
Perhaps you thought the worst story yesterday about a religious minority being persecuted was the revelation that the NYPD has designated entire mosques as terrorist organizations, spying on imams, recording conversations inside the mosques, and parking fake cabs out front filled with surveillance gear. And if you thought that you were totally -- no, actually, you were right. But while the world was transfixed by the NYPD/Muslim injustice, one man was fighting his own (non)religious battle against the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

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Dubious Christian "Counseling" Organizations Sue New Jersey Over Gay Conversion Therapy Ban

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Chris Christie points and laughs at gay conversion therapy (probably not).
Two New Jersey therapists, along with the anti-gay Christian counseling groups they belong to, are suing the state over the recently signed ban on "conversion therapy," an absurd, scientifically discredited practice that purports to turn gay people straight. Dr. Tara King and Dr. Ronald Newman are both suing for the right to pretend to change people's sexuality, arguing that the ban constitutes " immediate and irreparable injury to their most cherished constitutional liberties." Both therapists belong to the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, who have joined the lawsuit, along with the American Association of Christian Counselors. The suit was first reported by Courthouse News.

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