Two leaders of an extremist Jewish sect were convicted Wednesday of kidnapping and child sexual exploitation crimes, prosecutors said.
In a release, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced the verdict against Nachman Helbrans and Mayer Rosner. He said the men “brazenly kidnapped two children from their mother in the middle of the night to return a 14-year-old girl to an illegal sexual relationship with an adult man.”
The charges against the men included conspiring to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.
Lawyers for the men did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Helbrans, 39, and Rosner, 45, both U.S. citizens and both of Guatemala, had leadership roles in Lev Tahor, an extremist Jewish sect with multiple locations including New York, Israel, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala, prosecutors said. They said Helbrans became the sect's leader in 2017 and Rosner was his top lieutenant.
Prosecutors said Helbrans and his leadership team seized tight control of the group and embraced extreme practices including child marriages and underage sex.
The men were among a group that abducted a 14-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother on Dec. 8 from their home in Woodridge in upstate New York and took them to Mexico, prosecutors said.
The FBI has said that the children's mother had been a “voluntary member” of Lev Tahor but fled the group's community in Guatemala in October 2018 after its leadership became increasingly extreme. Authorities said Helbrans is the brother of the kidnapped children’s mother.
After the mother and her children settled in New York, Helbrans and Rosner devised a plan to return the girl to Guatemala to resume a sexual relationship with her then-20-year-old “husband” after a supposed marriage that Helbrans had arranged a year earlier, prosecutors said.
In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman ruled for a second time Wednesday that the alleged marriage was invalid.
As part of the plot, the men kidnapped the girl and her brother in December 2018 and took them through various states and into Mexico, prosecutors said.
After a three-week search, the kidnapping victims were found in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire and were returned to their mother, prosecutors said.
They added that members of Lev Tahor tried to kidnap the children again in March 2019 and March of this year.