Two leaders of the Lev Tahor cult have been found guilty by a jury on all charges pertaining to the 2018 Shabbos kidnapping of two children who escaped the cult, and now face life in prison.
Nachman Helbrans and Meyer Rosner, two Lev Tahor officials who were involved in the kidnapping, were found guilty on all six charges they faced, including conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and conspiracy to commit international parental kidnapping.
“The defendants engaged in a brazen kidnapping of a minor girl in the middle of the night, taking her across the border to Mexico in order to reunite her with her adult ‘husband’ to continue their sexual relationship. These charges send a clear message that the sexual exploitation of children will not be tolerated,” US Attorney Audrey Strauss said when the cultists were charged in 2019.
Several other Lev Tahor cultists have been arrested in connection with the case, including brothers Yoel, Yaakov, and Shmiel Weingarten, who were picked up by Guatemala authorities earlier this year.
They are expected to be extradited to the United States to face charges and a trial.
Three others in the United States are reportedly cooperating with authorities.
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Reports indicate cult leaders have suggested death as better alternative than life outside the cult.
YWN has been at the forefront for more than 10 years fighting the Lev Tahor cult – with dozens of articles over the years.
Lev Tahor was founded and led by Shlomo Helbrans, from the 1980s until his drowning death in Mexico in 2017. Since then, the leadership has moved into the hands of his son Nachman Helbrans, along with Mayer Rosner, Yankel and Yoel Weingarten, who are even more radical and aggressive than the late founder.
In 2014 YWN ran an article titled “Cults and the War of the Jewish Magazines” in response to Mishpacha and Ami magazines running articles on Lev Tahor. Mishpacha Magzaine had run a fifteen page “expose” on the group, essentially describing Lev Tahor as a cult that has some serious issues involving medicating children, and behaviors that resemble child abuse. Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter of Ami Magazine claimed the exact opposite – and ran the following sentence below their headline “The unjust persecution of a group of pious Jews, and the unsettling silence of the Jewish community.”
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that NACHMAN HELBRANS and MAYER ROSNER were convicted in White Plains federal court of child sexual exploitation offenses and kidnapping following a four-week jury trial. The defendants, leaders of an extremist Jewish sect called Lev Tahor, masterminded a scheme to kidnap a 14-year-old girl (“Minor-1”) and a 12-year-old boy (“Minor-2”) from their mother in Woodridge, New York. The defendants then smuggled the children across the U.S. border to Mexico, where they reunited Minor-1 with her adult “husband” to allow him to continue his illegal sexual relationship with Minor-1.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Nachman Helbrans and Mayer Rosner 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. Today’s verdict makes clear that our Office – and our law enforcement partners – will not be deterred from achieving justice for victims of child sexual exploitation.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and the evidence presented at trial:
NACHMAN HELBRANS and MAYER ROSNER are U.S. citizens and senior leaders of Lev Tahor, an extremist Jewish sect that has been located in several different jurisdictions, including New York, Israel, Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. HELBRANS became the leader of Lev Tahor in or about 2017 and ROSNER served as a top lieutenant. After HELBRANS and his leadership team took over, they seized tight control over the group and embraced several extreme practices, including child marriages and underage sex.
In or about 2017, HELBRANS arranged for his then-12-year-old niece, Minor-1, to be “married” to a then-18-year-old man. They were religiously “married” the following year, when Minor-1 was 13 and her “husband” was 19, and immediately began a sexual relationship with the goal of procreation. They were never legally married. Lev Tahor leadership, including HELBRANS and ROSNER, required young brides to have sex with their husbands, to tell people outside Lev Tahor that they were not married, to pretend to be older, and to deliver babies inside their homes instead of at a hospital, to conceal the mothers’ young ages from the public.
In or about October 2018, the mother of Minor-1 determined that it was no longer safe for her children to remain in the Lev Tahor community in Guatemala. The mother escaped from the group’s compound and arrived in the United States in early November 2018. Also in November 2018, a Brooklyn family court granted her sole custody of the children and prohibited the children’s father, a leader within Lev Tahor, from communicating with the children.
After the mother fled and settled in New York with her children, the defendants devised a plan to return Minor-1, then 14 years old, to Guatemala and to her then-20-year-old “husband” so that they could resume their sexual relationship and procreate. Then, in December 2018, they kidnapped Minor-1 and her brother in the middle of the night from a home in upstate New York and transported them through various states and, eventually, to Mexico. The defendants used disguises, aliases, drop phones, fake travel documents, an encrypted application, and a secret pact to execute on their kidnapping plan. At the time of the kidnapping, Lev Tahor leadership was seeking asylum for the entire Lev Tahor community in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Following a three-week search involving hundreds of local, federal, and international law enforcement entities, Minor-1 and Minor-2 were recovered in Mexico and returned to New York. Then, in or about March 2019 and March 2021, members of Lev Tahor again tried to kidnap the children.
NACHMAN HELBRANS, 39, of Guatemala, and MAYER ROSNER, 45, of Guatemala, were convicted of (1) conspiring to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison; (2) conspiring to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; (3) two counts of international parental kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison for each count; and (4) one count of conspiring to commit international parental kidnapping, to unlawfully use a means of identification, and to enter by false pretenses the secure area of an airport, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. HELBRANS was also convicted of an additional count of international parental kidnapping in connection with an attempt to kidnap Minor-1 in March 2019.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Police, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, United States Customs and Border Protection, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department, the Village of Spring Valley Police Department, Special Agents with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Department of State, the Transportation Security Administration, and our law enforcement partners in Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, and Israel.
This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Sam Adelsberg, Jamie Bagliebter, Jim Ligtenberg, and Daniel Tracer, and paralegal specialist Shannon Becker, are in charge of the prosecution.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)