Nachman Helbrans, the leader of the extremist Jewish haredi sect Lev Tahor, was sentenced to 12 years in prison along with another senior member on crimes of kidnapping and sex trafficking, the US Justice Department announced on Thursday.
Helbrans and fellow Lev Tahor member Meyer Rosner were convicted in November 2021 of orchestrating the kidnapping of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy from Woodridge, New York, smuggling them to Mexico. There, the girl was reunited with her "husband" in order to resume their illegal sexual relationship.
“No mother should ever have to wake up to find her children missing. And no child should ever be forced into a sexual relationship,” US attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
“Today’s sentencings send a clear message: those who kidnap and sexually exploit children will be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.”
The ruling noted that Helbrans showed "not a single ounce of remorse for his behavior." In his defense, Helbrans said he was only punished because "I was a pious Jew," haredi media reported.
Helbrans is the leader of Lev Tahor, taking over from his father, the sect's founder Shlomo Helbrans after he drowned to death in 2017.
Known by some as the "Jewish Taliban," the controversial Lev Tahor sect is infamous for its isolationism, usage of child marriages, strict adherence to doctrine and absolute control the leadership has over the lives of the members.
These controversial views were made infamous enough under Shlomo's leadership. However, many have described Helbrans as being even more extreme, with some reports noting that he only allowed the sect's members to eat bread and produce and allegedly forced his sister to eat sesame seeded bread despite her being allergic, ultimately killing her.
Rosner was described as Helbrans's top lieutenant by the Department of Justice.
Their membership has been located in countries throughout the world such as New York, Israel, Mexico, Canada and Guatemala. Its members have also been spotted in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with several having made clear their intent to move to Iran after having pledged allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
This is a developing story.