Federal authorities have arrested another member of an extremist Jewish sect in what the FBI has called a new plot to abduct two New York children who recently fled the ultra-orthodox group called Lev Tahore.
Members of the cult had earlier vowed to re-abduct the children, whose mother had already rescued them three times from the Guatemala-based group, The New York Post reported.
Sect leaders reportedly threatened the children’s mother, Sara Helbrans, according to an indictment reported on by The Post. An unnamed “boss” of the group allegedly said in a telephone call secretly recorded by Helbrans that the cult members would fight the mother “until the last drop of blood and that they will fight her to the death.”
Matityau Moshe Malka appeared in federal court in White Plains, New York, on Tuesday, March 26, on kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges, The Associated Press reported.
The FBI said Malka and other members of Lev Tahor planned to abduct 14-year-old Yante Teller and her 12-year-old brother Chaim Teller three months after they were returned to their mother in upstate New York after earlier being kidnapped and rescued.
Malka is one of five alleged cult members arrested in the kidnapping plot.
Authorities charged four members of the Lev Tahore sect in December with abducting the same boy and girl and taking them out of the country.
The children were found in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire.
“Thankfully, the kidnappers were no match for the perseverance of the FBI, the New York State Police, and Mexican authorities, and the children were recovered this morning after a nearly three-week search,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a Dec. 28 statement.
The children were reunited with their mother in New York.
Mother Spoke Out Against ‘Extremism’
Federal investigators said in court filings cited by The Post that the children’s mother had been a “voluntary member” of Lev Tahor but escaped from the group after its leadership became increasingly extreme.
“Prior to her escape, the mother spoke out against the growing extremism within Lev Tahor,” the complaint reads. “The mother indicated that it was not safe to keep her children there.”
In the criminal complaint, FBI Agent Jonathan Lane referred to reports of Lev Tahor subjecting children to “physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.”
Denis Baraby, the former director of Youth Protection Services for the Laurentides region, which has investigated Lev Tahor, told The New York Post of witnessing disturbing conditions during visits to Lev Tahor homes, including urine-soaked mattresses and insects.
“Medical services, proper hygiene, proper food was not provided for these children,” Baraby said, adding he and his co-workers were “shocked by the children’s living conditions.’’
The mother was granted custody of the children after entering the United States.
“I am very worried, afraid, and concerned that the father and his fellow members of the cult will try to kidnap the children and compel the children to return to the cult, where they are in danger of malnourishment, corporal punishment, and forced to marry persons much older than them,” she wrote in a Nov. 14 custody filing in Brooklyn Family Court, according to The Post.
She sought custody of her children and an order of protection against her husband.
Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said, “As alleged, the defendants are leaders and members of Lev Tahor who kidnapped two innocent children to continue their lives with the group in violation of a legitimate, court-ordered child custody arrangement.”
Berman said, “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 Associated Press contributed to this report.