Alleged leader of Lev Tahor charged with kidnapping in New York State

The U.S. Justice Department charged four members of the ultra-orthodox sect in relation to the kidnapping of two minors.

U.S. Justice Department charged 4 members of the ultra-orthodox sect with kidnapping of minors

Four members of the Lev Tahor ultra-orthodox Jewish community were arrested for kidnapping in New York State this week. (Dave Chidley / Canadian Press)

Four men, including the current leader of ultra-orthodox sect Lev Tahor, were arrested and charged in relation to the kidnapping of two minors in New York State this week, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner, Aron Rosner and Jacob Rosner were all charged in a White Plains federal court, after two children, aged 12 and 14 were kidnapped from a residence in Woodridge, New York, and unlawfully transported to Mexico, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Helbrans, 36, is alleged to be the current leader of the sect, formerly headed by his father, Schlomo Helbrans. 

The two children were staying with their mother in Woodridge after she reportedly fled the Lev Tahor sect, now established in Guatemala.

"According to the Mother, the new leader of Lev Tahor, her brother Nachman Helbrans, is more extreme than her father had been, and, as a result, she fled from the group," reads the statement.

She was granted temporary sole custody of her six children, as well as a protective order against their father, who is not named.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman writes that earlier this month, the 12 and 14-year-old were the target of a "terrifying kidnapping" in the middle of the night, and that after a three-week search, the two children were located by U.S. and Mexican authorities and returned to the United States.

The release goes on to say that Jacob Rosner, 20,  "is considered within Lev Tahor to be the husband of the 14-year old" kidnapping victim.

All four men were charged with kidnapping and were said to have participated in the scheme, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Ties to Quebec, Ontario

Lev Tahor, which means "pure heart," is an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect from Quebec made up of around several hundred people.

In November 2013, roughly 40 families lived in the Laurentians in Quebec's Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts. The families, including about 120 children, left their homes in the middle of the night that month and moved to Chatham-Kent, Ont.

The sudden move came soon after a child welfare agency started a court case against some of the families.

In August 2014, most of the members moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.

Before the Lev Tahor community moved overnight from Quebec to southern Ontario, it was under investigation by Quebec youth protection officials.

After the group suddenly moved to Ontario, Quebec youth protective services worked closely with its counterpart in Ontario to continue the investigation — which the Sûreté du Québec had begun in 2012.

Nachman Helbrans, one of the accused, spoke with CBC several times as a spokesperson on behalf of the group's activities in Quebec and Ontario.

His father Schlomo Helbrans applied for, and was granted, refugee status in Canada in 2003. According to Radio-Canada, Helbrans Sr. died by drowning while in Mexico in July 2017 at the age of 55.