Four arrested after kidnapped children found in Mexico with Jewish ‘cult’

A brother and sister from New York state have been rescued from a Jewish “cult”, after police found them in a small town 30 miles south of Mexico City.

Chaim Teller, 12, and his sister Yante Teller, 14, were taken from their home in Woodridge, New York, on December 8.

On Friday they were found in Mexico, after their mother reported them missing. She said she suspected they had been taken by her brother, who runs the ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor group, founded by their father.

Its teachings reportedly include that women must be veiled from head to toe in black tunics.

The group is based in Guatemala, and the mother fled six weeks ago, taking her children with her.

Four members of the group were arrested and charged with the kidnapping of the two children.

Three of the suspects, Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner and Jacob Rosner, were deported from Mexico on Thursday and arrested on their arrival in the US.

The fourth suspect, Aron Rosner, was arrested by the FBI in Brooklyn on December 23 and is accused of providing financial support to the group.

Around the time of the kidnapping, Mr Rosner sent seven wire transfers to a man in Mexico, according to the complaint. He also organised multiple conference calls with co-conspirators in the kidnapping and spoke with them about hotels in Mexico, flights, bus tickets, credit cards and food, the complaint said.

All of the men have been charged with one count of kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Lev Tahor, which translates to “pure heart” in Hebrew, is an offshoot of an anti-Zionist Hasidic sect.

Members of the group practice a strict form of Orthodox Judaism, shunning technology and enforcing a strict dress code.

Over the years, children in Lev Tahor have often been subjected to “physical, sexual and emotional abuse,” according to the complaint.

The group started in Jerusalem in the 1980s but the rabbi who formed the sect, Shlomo Helbrans, relocated them to a Brooklyn yeshiva in 1990.

He was arrested in New York in 1993 on charges of a kidnapping teenager who was then studying with the rabbi in preparation for his bar mitzvah. The boy’s parents accused Helbrans of brainwashing their son; he in turn accused the parents of abusing their son.

Helbrans was found guilty of kidnapping and served two years in prison. He was released on parole in 1996 and was deported to Israel in 2000.

In the early 2000s he and his followers established a Lev Tahor community in Quebec, Canada, but after legal troubles there involving allegations of child abuse and child marriages, members of the group left Canada and eventually resettled in Guatemala.

Their time there has not been easy, either – in 2014 local villagers forced them out, seeking them to relocate.