A November 10, 2021 press release of the US Department of Justice announced that two top leaders of Lev Tahor were convicted of kidnapping and child sexual exploitation. 39-year old Nachman Helbrans and 45-year old Mayer Rosner, the US leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, are both facing life sentences.
Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York said, Helbrans and Rosner were both involved in the planning and the execution of the kidnapping of a 14-year old girl, along with her 12-year old brother, to return the young girl to her "husband."
Around 2017, Helbrans arranged for his then 12-year old niece to marry an 18-year older adult. The following year, the two were religiously "married" and began sexual relationships right away. Lev Tahor's practice requires child brides to have a sexual relationship with their husbands. They also instruct them not to tell anyone outside the cult that they are married. Even going as far as declining medical care for pregnant child brides to "conceal the mothers' young ages from the public."
In October 2018, the siblings' mother escaped from Lev Tahor's Guatemala compound to the US. A Brooklyn family court gave her sole custody of her children. The court also barred the children's father, one of the cult's leaders, from communicating with them.
After the mother escaped, Helbrans and Rosner began creating a plan to return the 14-year old girl to her husband "so that they could resume their sexual relationship and procreate."
Lev Tahir's practice of child marriage and other forms of child abuse has caused the group to be hounded by law enforcement. Founded in the 1980s by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, an anti-Zionist, the sect has gained cult status after reports of abuse and kidnapping started to appear. The sect has been displaced far from Israel, moving to the U.S., Canada, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Helbrans and Rosner were charged in April along with other Lev Tahor members. Yakov Weingarten, Shieml Weingarten, and Yoil Weingarten, all U.S. citizens, also received the same charges.
Williams said Helbrans and Rosner, along with the other defendants, "brazenly kidnapped two children from their mother in the middle of the night in December 2018." The group planned to return the 14-year old to an "illegal sexual relationship with an adult man."
The group smuggled the children from the US to Mexico using "aliases, drop phones, fake travel documents, an encrypted application."
After weeks of searching, federal authorities and their international counterparts recovered the children in Mexico. But Herbran's cult attempted another kidnapping in March 2019 and in March 2021.
On July 6, 2021, US and Guatemalan authorities raided Lev Tahor's compound in El Amatillo village in Santa Rosa, Guatemala.
Helbrans became the cult leader in 2017, after his father, the founder of the cult, died in the same year. With Rosner acting as his second-in-command, Helbrans immediately began embracing "extreme practices, including child marriages and underage sex," according to court filings.