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Michael Cohen, 53, a former lawyer for President Trump, has been released from Otisville Federal Prison because he was at risk of contracting Covid-19. Meanwhile, the criminal prosecution of Michael Flynn has been dropped because he was the victim of an FBI perjury “trap.”

Compare the two Michaels with two rabbis – Rabbi Mendel Epstein and Rabbi Jay Goldstein (ages 74 and 66) – who have been denied coronavirus release from Otisville by federal Judge Freda Wolfson and the Bureau of Prisons.


The two rabbis are victims of a 2013 FBI “sting” that targeted them for trying to enforce rabbinic orders directing divorced husbands to give their wives a get. Most rabbis condemn violence against recalcitrant husbands, but some condone it, relying on a Maimonidean authorization.

Violent crime in America is normally deterred by after-the-fact prosecution and imprisonment. Victims report assaults and cooperate in prosecuting perpetrators. But in this case, the FBI’s front office decided that it was necessary to root out – in advance of any violent act – rabbis who might condone assaults.

So the FBI embarked on a “sting” that required (1) front-office approval, (2) extensive training of two undercover FBI agents at a dedicated acting facility in Quantico, Virginia, and (3) fabrication of a ketubah.

The FBI then hunted for rabbis who might fall into their trap. Agents exploited the phony ketubah and the FBI’s trained thespians to deceive the Beth Din of America into issuing summonses and a contempt decree against the fictional husband. With these tools in hand and a stellar performance by an FBI agent as a weepy divorcee who would be unable to remarry and bear children, the FBI snared rabbis who were known to be sympathetic to the religious plight of agunot.

The rabbis were fooled by the FBI’s meticulously orchestrated theatrical performance into believing that they would free the agunah if they arranged a meeting in a New Jersey warehouse with her stubborn husband, who had allegedly refused, before fleeing to South America, to grant her a get. A group of Orthodox Jewish men – many of whom did not expect that violence would be employed – were recruited to assist in the performance of a religiously-encouraged venture.

The FBI had rigged the warehouse with cameras and recorders. All who joined in the trip were arrested while they waited for the arrival of the fictional husband, including those who never contemplated that the husband would be assaulted if he refused to do as they asked. There was, of course, no violence because, in the real world, there was no husband. The entire scenario was an FBI fabrication.

Rabbis Epstein and Goldstein (who joined the group as a sofer qualified to write a get) have completed four years of 10- and 8-year prison terms imposed after a trial in a federal court in Trenton. (I represented a co-defendant who was also convicted but has, thankfully, completed his prison term.)

Judge Freda Wolfson excluded at their trial all evidence of their religious motivation on the preposterous ground that such evidence would lead the overwhelmingly non-Jewish jury to “nullify” federal kidnapping laws by acquitting the defendants even if the jury concluded they were technically guilty.

Judge Wolfson has now rejected motions for “compassionate release” under federal law. In a 17-page opinion issued on May 19, she acknowledged that Rabbi Epstein contracted Covid-19 at Otisville and has medical conditions that place him in a highly vulnerable class.

Nonetheless, Judge Wolfson – whose conduct of the trial and in-chambers off-the-record remarks manifested her antipathy to “ultra-Orthodox” Jews – found that Rabbi Epstein not only received “adequate care” from the Bureau of Prisons but that “one of the primary reasons” for his recovery from Covid-19 “is the medical treatment that the BOP is providing.”

Why, one wonders, was Michael Cohen sent home if the Otisville doctors provide such fine treatment for Covid-19? And why has the Department of Justice dropped its prosecution of Michael Flynn – who was also the victim of an FBI “sting” – and not sought the release of the two rabbis?

President Trump’s readiness to pardon Flynn should now extend to all those who were victimized by the FBI’s ill-advised “getcha” project to trap rabbis.


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Nathan Lewin is a Washington lawyer who specializes in white-collar criminal defense and in Supreme Court litigation.