TODAY   |  October 12, 2013

Rabbis accused of kidnapping husbands for a fee

Following a raid, two Jewish rabbis have been accused of running a kidnapping-for-hire ring where wives, desperate for divorce, paid thousands to have their husbands abducted, and in some cases, tortured to comply. NBC’s Michelle Franzen reports.

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>>> two rabbis behind bars this morning and accused of being the masterminds in a bizarre plot to force husbands to grant their wives a divorce. here is more now from michelle franzen .

>> reporter: the charges are startling. in a closely knit orthodoxed community, two rabbis accused of kidnapping for hire murder ring where they were paid to have wives husbands's abducted and in some cases tortured to comply. federal followed a raid and arrest from this rabbi in up state new york and wendall epstein is shown in a documentary called "women unchanged." . the fbi conducted a two-year sting operation where an undercover agent posed as an orthodoxed jewish wife wanting a divorce. phone calls and meetings where a rabbi would coerce the husband to grant the divorce. according to authorities, epstein said, quote, tough guys who utilize prods -- one says it reflects the legal barriers women face in the ultra orthodoxed communities.

>> it is a document that allows the couple to on get a divorce and it's entirely up to the husband. the wife has no control over it.

>> reporter: defense attorneys for rabbi epstein did not comment on the charges. willmarks' attorney says his client is innocent.

>> the government says it's all about money. i don't think it's quite that clear. these are maybe controversial, but sort of old religious traditions.

>> reporter: the two rabbis and eight other defendants remain in federal custody without bail. for "today," michelle franzen , nbc news, new york.