NEW YORK — A New York man has been charged in the kidnapping of two children whose mother recently fled an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in Guatemala.
The FBI arrested Aron Rosner of Brooklyn this week on charges accusing him of providing financial assistance to members of the religious group Lev Tahor in an international abduction scheme.
Rosner’s defense attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
The FBI said in court filings that the children — 14-year-old Yante Teller and her 12-year-old brother Chaim Teller — were kidnapped December 8 from their home in upstate New York and taken out of the country.
Surveillance footage shows the children walking out of the residence before 3 a.m. and entering a vehicle.
The boy was spotted with Lev Tahor members at a hotel in Mexico City days after the kidnapping, according to the court filings. The whereabouts of the children was not clear Thursday.
The FBI did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The bureau said in the court filings that the children’s mother had been a “voluntary member” of Lev Tahor, but escaped the group in recent weeks after the organization became increasingly extreme. Her father, Shlomo Helbrans, founded the sect and, in 1994, was convicted of kidnapping a 13-year-old in New York. Helbrans was later deported to Israel. He drowned in Mexico in 2017.
Shlomo Helbrans son Nachman Helbrans, who has since taken over the sect, was one of five people arrested earlier this month in Mexico in a joint FBI and Interpol operation.
“The mother indicated that it was not safe to keep her children there,” FBI Agent Jonathan Lane wrote in a criminal complaint filed in US District Court, referring to the group in Guatemala.
Lane referred in the complaint to news accounts of Lev Tahor subjecting children to “physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”
The FBI said Rosner transferred money on seven occasions that assisted members of Lev Tahor in the kidnapping.
He also is accused of speaking with several “co-conspirators about hotels in Mexico as well as purchases of flights, bus tickets, credit cards and food,” according to the criminal complaint.
Rosner was ordered held without bail Monday pending trial.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages.
It moved in 2016 from the outskirts of Guatemala City to Oratorio, a village 30 miles east of Guatemala City, after religious disputes with its neighbors, and reportedly crossed the border from Guatemala to Mexico in June 2017. It may have returned later to Guatemala.
Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common. The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.
JTA contributed to this report.