Police allege members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor falsified documents and engaged in human trafficking, according to search warrants, unsealed Wednesday, that gave provincial police permission to search the homes of some Lev Tahor members in Chatham, Ont. last January.
The warrants also give a fresh glimpse of the international nature of the case investigators have been seeking to build.
None of the allegations against Lev Tahor in the document, called an Information to Obtain (ITO), has been tested in court.
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An ITO is written testimony laying out allegations and reasons investigators believe a judge should grant a search warrant.
The document alleges forced marriages, beatings, malnutrition, forced drugging and sexual abuse of children. It also reveals that Sûreté du Quebec (SQ) used the help of Interpol and Israeli authorities to build a criminal case against members of the sect, who fled to Ontario from Quebec in the middle of the night last November, days after a child welfare agency started a court case against some of the families.
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Members of the Lev Tahor walk down a street in Chatham, Ont., on March 5, 2014.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
Quebec authorities were investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect when the community of about 200 was living in St-Agathe-des-Monts, Que. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services continued that investigation when the community moved to Chatham, Ont.
Israeli citizen Shlomo Helbrans formed the sect in the 1980s. He moved to Brooklyn, NY the following decade but was deported after serving two years in prison for kidnapping and physically abusing a 13-year-old boy.
Helbrans moved to Canada and was granted asylum in 2003, after which he established a community of about 45 families in Ste-Agathe. Israel likens Lev Tahor to a sect, a fake religion Helbrans invented, the ITO indicates.
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In August 2012, according to the ITO, an RCMP liaison officer working in Paris told SQ investigators he was in contact with Israeli authorities concerning allegations that children were physically and sexually abused, underage girls married off and other young girls being forced to stay in Ste-Agathe against their will.
In January 2014 the SQ obtained information from Interpol including complaints of several of Helbrans’ former followers and family members in Israel, according to the ITO. Most names remain redacted.
The ITO contains declarations from five complainants – much still heavily redacted. Portions published detail testimony alleging children were forced to consume a green powder mixed with water, taken from their families against the will of their parents and told that “black angels” would find them and burn them in hell.
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The testimony of a man who left the community alleges one of the community’s leaders, Mayer Rosner, took over all of his sources of income under the pretext the former member was not able to take care of his own personal finances.
The former member told investigators he was beaten and that his problems with the sect began when his mother refused to wear the community’s traditional black head-to-toe covering. He told investigators he suffered beatings, according to the ITO.
In previously redacted testimony, Adam Brudzevski, who was a Lev Tahor member for two years, alleges he was forced to beat children with a hanger in the community’s synagogue.
Lev Tahor community spokesman Uriel Goldman walks to the courthouse for the child custody case decision in Chatham, Ont. Monday, Feb. 3, 2014.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
He also told investigators he was forced to forge documents for the Ministry of Education, that children were not going to school, that children were taken away as a punishment to parents who didn’t follow the sect’s rules and that Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Helbrans, gave members precise instructions to visit doctors and obtain specific medications.
Further un-redacted testimony from a January 2014 interview between Brudzevski and an investigator claims there was a system in the community whereby Rosner allotted a certain amount of money to families, all recorded in a registry, so they could buy food at the general store.
He also told investigators that people were trapped in the community synagogue during prayers – the doors were locked and windows screwed shut.
Lev Tahor families have now settled in Chatham-Kent, Ontario.
Kirk Neff / 16×9
The document from the SQ also lists items investigators seized from Lev Tahor homes in Ste-Agathe, including marriage licences from Missouri, Revenu Quebec and Immigration Canada documents, a birth certificate and bottles of various medications, including an antipsychotic, with different patient names. Police also seized two laptop computers, an external hard drive, assorted banking documents pertaining to a company owned by Lev Tahor in Ste-Agathe and several credit cards under the name of Mordechai Yoel Malka.
A CD with documents from 2010 and 2011, most translated from Hebrew, contained power of attorney documents giving Lev Tahor leaders control over members who become incapacitated.
With files from