Ultra-Orthodox Cult Leaders With Ties To Brooklyn Arrested For 'Terrifying Kidnapping' Of Two Children

Rabbi Shlomo Erez Helbrans, who died last year, during an interview with CBC News in 2014.
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Rabbi Shlomo Erez Helbrans, who died last year, during an interview with CBC News in 2014. screengrab

A Brooklyn man and three other leaders of an extremist Jewish sect have been charged with kidnapping, after two children who disappeared from an upstate New York retreat earlier this month were found in a small Mexico City town last week.

According to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, the international abduction scheme was orchestrated by members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox extremist community now based in Guatemala. The children—14-year-old Yante Helbrans and 12-year-old Chaim Helbrans—had previously escaped the cult with their mother, Sara Helbrans.

The siblings' uncle, Nachman Helbrans, is the leader of Lev Tahor and one of the suspects in the kidnapping. Brooklyn resident Aron Rosner is accused of helping to fund the abduction, organizing multiple conference calls, and providing information about hotels and travel in Mexico. Mayer Rosner, 42, and his 20-year-old son, Jacob Rosner, were also deported to the United States from Mexico for their role in the disappearance. All four men were charged with kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Authorities with the United States and Mexico located the kids in the small town of Tenango del Aire, Mexico on Friday. They were allegedly smuggled out of the country via a small Pennsylvania airport wearing non-religious disguises, including a Superman hat. It was initially believed that the children were taken to New York City.

The group, which currently has an estimated 200 members, was founded in Jerusalem in the 1980s and later relocated to Brooklyn. In the years since, its members have routinely subjected children to “physical, sexual and emotional abuse," according to the criminal complaint. Last year, a 14-year-old boy alleged that the religious leaders “undressed me and beat me and kicked me many times." One of the men, he said, “killed a baby and another man. He hits and kicks all of the children.”

The group has become increasingly extreme in recent years, which prompted the children's mother to flee the community in November, according to the complaint. The men allegedly abducted the two children in retaliation on December 8th.

"The defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico," the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. "These charges and arrests send a clear message that if you are involved in child abduction we will find you and bring you to justice."

The children are expected to be flown back to Brooklyn to be with their mother early this week.

For more on the Lev Tahor abuse allegations, check out this Canadian news segment from 2014:

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