The ‘Getcha’ Sting
The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page on May 1 attacked “The FBI’s Flynn Outrage,” but neglected an identical, if not greater, outrage that the FBI perpetrated seven years ago against Orthodox Jews who wanted to assist women whose husbands cruelly left them unable to remarry after a civil divorce. Wall Street Journal editor Kimberley A. Strassel condemned Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for perjury because FBI notes reveal that Flynn was interrogated by two FBI agents in order to trap him into committing perjury. “The FBI exists,” said Ms. Strassel, “to investigate crimes, not to create them.”
Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Jay Goldstein are now at the federal prison camp in Otisville, New York under 10- and eight-year jail terms imposed after the FBI perpetrated against them the same — if not more scandalous — injustice that it recently inflicted on Flynn. Their lives are endangered by the coronavirus, but federal judge Freda L. Wolfson, who presided at their trial and sentenced them, has refused to direct their immediate release, as she could do under the “First Step Act” and the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.” The judge’s justification is that neither has “exhausted administrative remedies” and the Bureau of Prisons “is uniquely situated to make determinations regarding eligibility for home confinement.”
President Trump tweeted that the recent disclosures of FBI corruption may justify pardoning Flynn if he is not vindicated in court. That remedy — a presidential pardon — is owed to the seven men, including Rabbis Epstein and Goldstein, who were encouraged by an FBI sting to travel to a New Jersey warehouse in October 2013 to coerce a fictional husband to authorize a Jewish divorce for a female FBI agent. The agent was meticulously trained to act like a “chained woman” (agunah) and coached to persuade Rabbi Epstein to help her win her freedom.
I represented one of the men accused in the FBI’s prosecution and tried in federal court in Trenton. Binyamin Stimler joined the group that was filmed and recorded in the FBI’s creation of a crime. He participated only because he was ready to witness and sign the Jewish bill of divorce (get) that Rabbi Epstein hoped would be authorized by the phantom “husband” who was a creature of the FBI’s drama. Judge Wolfson excluded at the trial any evidence of the religious motivation of the defendants because the prosecutors preposterously objected that such evidence would lead to “nullification” of the federal kidnapping law by the overwhelmingly non-Jewish jury. She sentenced my client to 39 months’ imprisonment. He is, thankfully, no longer at Otisville.
The FBI embarked on its “sting” with (1) front-office approval of a scheme to lure rabbis, (2) extensive training of two undercover agents at an FBI acting school in Quantico, Virginia, and (3) fabrication of an authentic-looking ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. Agents then lied to the Beth Din of America to obtain a rabbinic summons to the fictional husband and a rabbinic contempt decree against him. With these tools, the FBI’s scenario snared rabbis who had been assisting chained wives.
The rabbis believed the FBI actress’ tale that her husband had relocated to South America without giving her a Jewish divorce and that her brother, another FBI performer, would lure him to a New Jersey warehouse (thereby creating federal jurisdiction in a New Jersey federal court). The FBI rigged the warehouse with cameras and recorders, arrested all those who participated, including some who never contemplated violence of any kind, and subjected them to criminal prosecution and jail, just as the FBI recently attempted with Michael Flynn.
The FBI might justify a “sting” where, as in the sale of drugs, neither party to an illegal transaction will be a complaining witness. Effective law enforcement may necessitate creating a false scenario in order to apprehend the more culpable party in an illegal transaction. But recalcitrant husbands who are assaulted in an effort to coerce them to give a Jewish divorce can (and do) complain to the police and cooperate in a criminal prosecution. In fact, an incident of actual assault was also prosecuted in the New Jersey trial. The jury — obviously repelled by the obnoxious victim — returned a not guilty verdict, but convicted the defendants who had succumbed to the FBI’s fake tableau.
There was far less justification for the elaborate production that the FBI devised to trap rabbis in 2013 than there was to assign agents to question Michael Flynn in 2017 in the hope that he would lie about conversations with the Russian ambassador. Those who are rushing to Flynn’s side should immediately see to it that Rabbis Epstein and Goldstein are instantly released from Otisville and that all the victims of the FBI’s “Getcha” sting are presidentially pardoned.
Nathan Lewin is a criminal-defense attorney with a Supreme Court practice who has taught at Georgetown, Harvard, University of Chicago, George Washington, and Columbia law schools.