Federal hearing begins for man connected to international kidnapping case

September 20, 2016

Source: http://wivb.com

Eighty people sit in the Honorable Richard Arcara’s federal courtroom, anxious to see who will be among the jurors selected to hear the case against Philip Zodhiates.


He’s the Virginia businessman connected to an international kidnapping case that has made headlines around the world.  A grand jury indicted Zodhiates on conspiracy and international parental kidnapping. He has pleaded not guilty.

The case stems from a 2009 kidnapping incident where Zodhiates allegedly helped Lisa Miller take her daughter, Isabella, from their home state, Virginia, to Canada via the Peace Bridge. It is believed the mother and daughter then boarded a plane to Central America.

Lisa Miller was in the midst of a custody dispute with her former partner — Janet Jenkins, when the alleged kidnapping happened.

The pair were married in Vermont in 2000; Isabella was conceived via artificial insemination in 2002; the couple split in 2003.

Before dissolving her union with Jenkins, Miller became a conservative Christian and renounced her homosexuality.

According to the Government’s timeline, Miller turned to the Mennonite community in Virginia for help and that’s where she came in contact with Zodhiates.

He’s one of the two men believed to have help Miller and Isabella get to Nicaragua. The other man, Timothy Miller, has been found guilty of conspiracy and international kidnapping. He’s a Mennonite pastor and missionary. He unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and is serving 27 months.

Miller and her daughter are believed to be in the Central American country still but haven’t been heard from since September 2009.

The case is set to last about two and a half weeks.

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TEEN KIDNAPPING: Woman gets 10 years in prison

July 12, 2016

Source: pressconnects.com

A Vestal woman who admitted illegally keeping two teenage sisters at her home for 11 months was sentenced Monday to 10 years in state prison for kidnapping.

Cindy L. Fortner

Amanda Hellmann, 29, had been arrested in the April 27, 2015, abduction of then-13-year-old Shaeleen Fortner and her sister, Kylea Fortner, then 15, who were in the custody of child protective services at the time. The girls’ mother, Cindy L. Fortner, who was in a relationship with Hellmann, had arranged the kidnapping and acted as an accomplice, Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell said.

Delivering an emotionally wrought statement at sentencing in Broome County Court, Hellmann apologized to her family members, several of whom were seated in the courtroom gallery behind her,

“It was never my intention to hurt anybody,” she sobbed. “I made stupid mistakes.”

Fortner and Hellmann picked the girls up in a car around 2:20 p.m. on April 27, 2015, before they could get on a Susquehanna Valley school bus to return to their foster home, according to prosecutors.

Cornwell said Hellmann and Fortner were acting in defiance of a Family Court order that had placed the girls in foster care, and committed a number of acts to prevent the girls’ discovery by law enforcement.

State police spent 11 months looking for the girls. They were found March 9, staying at Hellmann’s residence in Vestal after law enforcement investigated a lead spurred by a phone tip. The girls had been listed by police as teenage runaways from their Town of Binghamton foster home.

Judge Kevin Dooley, before handing down the prearranged 10-year sentence for Hellmann’s guilty plea to a felony count of second-degree kidnapping, said Monday it seemed clear that Hellmann’s drug addiction factored into her poor decision-making.

“I’m sure in your mind, you were trying to do the right thing,” Dooley said of Hellmann’s motive to commit kidnapping. “I’m sure you can appreciate … looking back, that perhaps it wasn’t the right thing.”

Outside the courthouse Monday, Cornwell said this case is an example of how drug addiction can play a role in all aspects of the criminal justice system — even a kidnapping case. According to police records, Hellmann overdosed on heroin twice last year and both incidents summoned emergency responders to her home.

“There’s never a happy ending,” Cornwell said. “The defendant admitted her guilt, she admitted in court what she did was wrong.”

As Cornwell spoke to news media, several of Hellmann’s family members walked out of the courthouse and one woman shouted, “He’s a liar,” in reference to the district attorney. They declined to comment to reporters, as did Hellmann’s defense attorney Ron Benjamin, after the sentencing.

The 10 years Hellmann spends behind bars will be followed by five years of post-release supervision, which is similar to parole, according to terms of her plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.

On July 1, Fortner pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy, and is awaiting a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

The two girls remain in the custody of social services.

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Child Abduction Safety

January 6, 2016

Source: kake.com

Wichita A father mistaken for a predator after a woman calls police saying the man tried to lure children into his car.

Stranger Danger Child Kidnapping

The incident happened on north Robin.

KAKE News reached out to the family who learned it was a big misunderstanding. However, the family feels grateful the woman cared enough to let police know about something that may have seemed suspicious.

Brittany, who didn’t want to go on camera, laughs knowing someone mistook her husband for a possible child predator. She says if the report was true she would fear for her children’s safety, “someone possibly around this area trying to pick up kids that’s frightening as a parent.”

She says she’s taught her little ones to stay away from strangers, “to first off run as fast as you can in the opposite direction and to yell as loud as possible.”

Wichita Police Department says that’s a good idea but also suggest kids learn their parent’s names, phone numbers, address and even other emergency contact numbers.

It’s suggested to have ID photos taken about every six months. Also, to make sure dental and medical records are up to date.
It’s a good idea to also have your children fingerprinted.

Parental-Child-Abduction USA

They say avoid dressing kids in clothing with their names on it. Children tend to trust people who know their names.

Also, teach kids the importance of never accepting anything from strangers. If children should come in contact with a stranger they should report it to parents and police.

While this was just a big misunderstanding, Brittany is thankful someone took the time to report what could have been a serious crime. She said, “a lot of times people just drive on, they wouldn’t think anything of it. Even though it was nothing she took the time out of her day to make sure that those children were safe and those children were my children.”

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South Africa – Nearly 400 children have gone missing in 2015

December 27, 2015

Source: east coast radio

Missing Children South Africa believes that human trafficking is one of the main reasons why children go missing in the country.

South Africa abductions

Spokesperson Nicky Rheeder says at this stage it cannot be proven but an International Labour Organisation study found that an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year with a 32-billion dollar profit generated annually.
Rheeder says this year almost 400 children have gone missing, 6% of these were found dead.

“Amongst children, we see various reasons why they go missing. It can be anything from parental or family abduction – if they have a custody dispute. One parent may take the child and disappear.

Child Recovery Agents Parental Kidnapping

“There are kidnappings as well and sometimes children go missing, they return and parents don’t want to tell us,” she said.

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Plano father fights for daughter in parental kidnapping case

July 13 , 2013

Source: Star Local News

“Hermer and his parents have spent around $75,000 on an international custody battle that has left them drained both monetarily and emotionally”.

Bart Hermer

For the last two years, Plano father Bart Hermer has dedicated his life to seeing his daughter returned from overseas. Alessia was abducted by her mother and represents one of more than 200,000 family abduction cases in the United States every year.

Bart Hermer carries a pacifier with him at all times. It’s purple with flecks of glitter and has the words “Princess Alessia” scrolled across the plastic.

He keeps the soother as a small comfort of his own — a reminder that his 2-year-old daughter, Alessia, is still out there and waiting to be reunited with her father.

For now, Alessia lives in the United Kingdom with her mother, 40-year-old Simmone Cohen, who is a British citizen. Hermer and his parents have spent around $75,000 on an international custody battle that has left them drained both monetarily and emotionally.

For the last two years, Plano father Bart Hermer has dedicated his life to seeing his daughter returned from overseas. Alessia was abducted by her mother and represents one of more than 200,000 family abduction cases in the United States every year.

Every night, Hermer sleeps on a bed in the nursery to feel closer to his daughter, but an empty crib is a constant reminder that the woman who first stole his heart, also stole his most precious possession.


Hermer and Cohen’s relationship started out as a picture-perfect romance. He fell for her British accent and stunning looks when they met on a single’s cruise in 2007, and months later they were visiting each other’s countries. The aging couple talked about both wanting children, so within a matter of months they were engaged.

“I swear on my daughter’s life, heart and soul we never had an argument,” Hermer said, reflecting on the blissful times. “We were the envy of everybody we knew.”

The two began planning for a wedding at the Dallas Arboretum — plans that were delayed when Cohen found out she was pregnant with Alessia. When the baby was 10 months old, Cohen planned a regular trip for the three of them to visit her family in London. Hermer said he had just been laid off from his job as an advertising executive, but Cohen had income from her marketing business she ran from their Plano home.

While going through customs at the London airport, Hermer was pulled aside and questioned. A customs officer accused him of trying to enter the country with the intention to live there — information Hermer’s fiancee had told them. As much as Hermer denied the story, he was sent back to the United States alone, and Cohen and Alessia remained in England.

“I was set up,” Hermer said. “The truth was she just wanted a baby.”

Back in Texas, Cohen’s designer clothes still hang in the closet. Her laptop was left behind, and a Plano detective confirmed in writing that she wrote messages contradicting their happy engagement.

“I definitley [sic] don’t want to marry him,” Cohen wrote in one Skype message to a family member. “… he knows I am delaying things so he may have guessed,” she wrote to a friend.

“She played him like a sucker,” Hermer’s mother, Kathy, said. “She lied about everything.”

An epidemic

The Hermer’s are not alone in their daily struggle with parental kidnapping. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) estimates more than 200,000 family abduction cases occur annually in the United States.

In cases involving children taken from the United States to the United Kingdom, 92 percent of cases are unresolved for longer than a year, and 38 percent are unresolved for more than five years, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database.

Hermer has tried to use international child abduction laws from the Hague Convention to get Alessia back. Article 3 of the convention talks about the “rights of custody” and says the courts must use the law of the state — in this case Texas — where the child was a resident before being abducted.

Even with letters of support from Texas Senators Florence Shapiro and Jane Nelson and state Rep. Jerry Madden, most of Hermer’s evidence was not allowed in the British court.

“I was not given a fair trial,” Hermer said. “I have solid evidence from credible people … and that evidence was not allowed. A lot of these countries will not return a child because of gender bias.”

After a crushing loss with denial of appeal, Hermer is trying a different approach. He hopes Attorney General Greg Abbott will push to have Cohen extradited to Texas on felony kidnapping charges.

“If my child stays there, it sets the precedent for thousands of children in the future,” Hermer said.

Time is ticking

Two years have passed with Hermer devoting his life to studying state and federal parental kidnapping law. He now works as assistant director of the Global Missing Children Fund.

Precedence from other international kidnapping cases shows that courts consider a child acclimated to their new country once they reach 3 years old. After that point, the courts are reluctant to return the child.

“I’ve got six months,” Hermer said, desperation in his voice. “She’s my life. She’s my pride. I don’t want to catch up with her in my 70s.”

He sees her occassionally when he is allowed to enter England for scheduled court hearings, but the trips are expensive and visitation is never guaranteed.

“When they are together it’s like they’ve never been separated for a moment,” Kathy said. “They had such a tight bond.”

Hermer is praying that someone will hear Alessia’s story and know how to help. While he is openly thankful for the ongoing support from Jewish Family Services, a separate fund has been set up for donations to offset some of the court costs at www.firstgiving.com/Bring-Alessia-Home.

“I’ll never quit until she’s in that crib,” he said. “I don’t care what it takes.”


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November 21, 2012

Source: hvinsider.com

Having done legal work for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for decades, the most important thing to know is that, not only is family abduction a crime, it is considered a form of child abuse.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: “family abduction has been characterized as a form of child abuse because of the harmful effects it has on children. Abducted children may be forced to lead a fugitive life under assumed names, sometimes with altered appearances, and kept out of school to avoid detection. The abductor may tell them the left-behind parent abandoned them, does not love them, or is dead. They may be neglected by their abductors and indoctrinated to fear law-enforcement officers and other adults who might help them.

In addition to possible long-term psychological harm, abducted children may be physically harmed at the time of the abduction as well as during the period of concealment. Parents most likely to harm their children are those who have serious mental and personality disorders, a history of violence or abuse, or little or no prior relationship with their child.

If you have ever seen the heartache of a parent who doesn’t know if their child(ren) is alive or dead, you will take this seriously. The last time I was involved in a Family Abduction, the abductor was found living on the West Coast, in a campgroup, with the children, by alert citizens who had seen the children on a milk carton.

For more information about the impact of abduction on victim children contact Take Root, an organization of adult members who were victims of parental abduction as children. Visitwww.takeroot.org or call toll-free at 1-800-ROOT-ORG (1-800-766-8674).”

For even a more in-depth look at Family Abduction please see the link below.



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