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Feb 23, 6:40 PM EST

Prosecutors play incriminating videos during rabbi's trial


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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- On grainy video, filmed from across a desk at his Lakewood home, a New Jersey rabbi told undercover FBI agents that his team of "tough guys" would jump Jewish husbands who wouldn't divorce their wives by throwing hoods over their heads and handcuffing them.

"He's going to be jumped, handcuffed and hooded," Rabbi Mendel Epstein is heard telling the agents posing as a brother and sister seeking a divorce from her unwilling husband. "That takes 30 to 60 seconds. For 80 percent of the guys, it's over right there."

Prosecutors played the video in federal court Monday, the third day of Epstein's trial on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.

His son and two other rabbis also are on trial in connection with a staged kidnapping in 2013 and three other forced divorces. His attorney, Robert Stahl, says some crimes were committed but don't amount to "federal kidnapping." He says Epstein was good at advocating for women and convincing husbands to grant divorces, a practice known as "a get."

The female undercover agent who recorded the videos took the stand Monday for the second day; the defense is expected to question her Tuesday.

Meeting with the agents at his home Aug. 14, 2013, Epstein is heard telling them that his "tough guys" would be kidnapping the husband and "beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the (divorce)."

The Orthodox rabbi said it would cost about $60,000 to carry out the kidnapping, and said the crew would use an electric cattle prod and a "karate expert" to force the husband's hand.

"If (the cattle prod) can get a bull that weighs five tons to move, you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know," Epstein is heard saying.

Throughout the recordings, Epstein recalled previous kidnappings - one he claimed ended with the unwilling husband having a heart attack - and said the "tough guys" prefer not to leave a mark so the target doesn't go to the police. He told the agents they would need to purchase new phones to communicate with him and figure out alibis when the kidnapping occurs. He laughed about how he would keep police off his trail in Brooklyn, where he also lived.

"They couldn't try me in Brooklyn," he's heard telling the agents. "The whole jury would be women. They'd say `Hang him (the husband). Kill him!'"

He also boasted about being a mediator for New York mafia families he claimed would clean their guns in front of him in what he said was an effort to intimidate him.

"But they're not going to shoot me because I'm the golden goose," he said.

Epstein's son David and rabbis Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler also are on trial.

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