(JTA) – Five leaders of Lev Tahor, a fringe haredi Orthodox sect, were indicted in White Plains, N.Y. for conspiring to kidnap two children from their mother and return them to their sect.
The accused were arrested in December and accused of kidnapping two children, a 14-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother. Their mother is Sara Helbrans, the daughter of sect founder Shlomo Helbrans. The mother had fled the group, based in Central America, and returned to with three of her six children to New York’s Sullivan County. Three other children were returned to her 10 days later.
The indictment alleges a plot by Nachman Helbrans, 36, who leads the sect since his father’s death, and sect members Mayer Rosner, 42; his son Jacob Rosner, 20; and Mayer’s brother, Aron Rosner, 45, of Brooklyn. A fifth man, Matityau Malka, was charged with aiding a second kidnapping plot in March, according to the Times Herald-Record.
They were indicted earlier this month in District Court in New York on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and international parental kidnapping. They have all pleaded not guilty. Four are being held without bond. Aron Rosner was released on a $10 million bond to home confinement and electronic monitoring.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages.
It moved in 2016 from the outskirts of Guatemala City to the small village of Oratorio after religious disputes with its neighbors, and reportedly crossed the border from Guatemala to Mexico in June 2017. Members may have returned later to Guatemala.