International child abduction case has a Western New York angle


October 5 , 2014

Source: buffalonews.com 

Mom, daughter on the run crossed border in Falls

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.02.27

At an age when most girls are thinking about junior high, making new friends and fitting in, Isabella Miller-Jenkins is on the run from the law.

It’s an international journey, authorities say, that began with her kidnapping in Virginia, brought her to Buffalo and eventually landed her with a group of Mennonites willing to hide her in Nicaragua.

Isabella, now 12 and under the alias of Lydia, is believed to be living there with one of her two mothers, Lisa A. Miller, the woman accused of abducting her five years ago.

Their story, which has garnered national headlines, could very well end here if Isabella and her mother are ever found. A federal grand jury in Buffalo recently indicted Miller and two others on charges of conspiracy and international parental kidnapping.

“Isabella, like any other child, deserves to grow up in her home country with parents and relatives who love her,” Janet Jenkins, Isabella’s other legal parent, said in a statement to The Buffalo News. “I am grateful for the efforts of law enforcement in Vermont, Virginia, New York and Nicaragua who have been working to find Isabella and prosecute those who have conspired in her abduction.”

Unlike most cases of parental kidnapping, the Miller prosecution has unfolded on the national stage for all to see. The New York Times and Atlantic Monthly are just two of the many news organizations that have followed the story.

It’s a case chock-full of social and legal issues – same-sex marriage, homosexuality, parental rights – that divide much of the nation.

So why prosecute the case in Buffalo?

The allegation is that Miller, eager to leave what she now calls the “homosexual lifestyle,” fled Virginia with her daughter in 2009 and, with the help of co-defendant Philip Zodhiates, made her way to Buffalo.

It was here, at the Greater Buffalo International Airport, that she hired a taxi driver to take them across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. From there, they made their way to Mexico and ultimately Nicaragua.

“Janet believes that her daughter is still in Central America in the company of Lisa Miller and the Amish Mennonite community,” Sarah R. Star, Jenkins’ Vermont lawyer, said in a statement.

Jenkins is eager to have her daughter home and is asking anyone who might know where she is to please come forward.

“Isabella is sorely missed by her mother Janet, her aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and many friends who have not seen her in five years,” the attorney said. “She requests that anyone with further information about Isabella’s whereabouts or her well-being contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

A renounced relationship

The photos of a smiling 7-year-old girl in blond pigtails have been part of the National Center’s website for four years.

A flyer with the words, “Missing. Please bring me home,” has been circulating since Miller fled Virginia with Isabella, leaving behind Jenkins, her partner from a civil union in Vermont.

Years earlier, Miller had renounced their relationship, returned to Virginia and, according to the Times, taken a job teaching at Liberty Christian Academy, a school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

By then, Vermont had dissolved their civil union and granted custody to Miller and visiting rights to Jenkins.

Miller, now 46, would later acknowledge that, even before she and Jenkins moved from Virginia to Vermont, a state that recognized same-sex unions, she had started questioning their lesbian relationship.

Miller, who became pregnant through in vitro fertilization, also had a troublesome pregnancy with Isabella and, in notes that later became public, acknowledged a desire to reconnect with the church.

“I promised God that, if he would save my baby, I would leave the homosexual lifestyle,” she said in one of her journals.

One of her lawyers, Rena M. Lindevaldsen, associate dean of the Liberty University Law School, refers to the notes in “Only One Mommy,” her 2011 book on Miller’s decadelong fight to become Isabella’s only parent.

When the courts in Vermont and Virginia disagreed and upheld Jenkins’ visitation rights, Miller tried stopping her former partner from seeing their daughter.

Lisa-Miller-and isabella poster

When the courts again intervened and ultimately granted Jenkins custody, she left Virginia and never returned.

“I only want to see my daughter,” Jenkins told the Times in 2012. “What’s hard for me is not knowing what she’s going through.”

National implications

Jenkins, now 49, is still in Vermont and has since married another woman.

Even before she fled, there were hints that Miller might not accept the courts’ rulings on Jenkins’ visitation and custody rights.

In a 2009 letter to a judge in Vermont, according to the Times, she said Isabella, “knows from her own reading of the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman … that she can not have two mommies.”

“What is at stake,” she told the judge, “is the health and well-being of an intelligent, delightful, beautiful, 7-year-old Christian girl.”

Early on in her custody fight, Miller enlisted the support of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit Christian organization known for its pro bono work on issues such as same-sex marriage. The group argued that Virginia law, which did not recognize civil unions, should have precedence over the case, and that Miller should be declared Isabella’s sole parent.

A lower court in Virginia initially agreed, but the state’s appeals court took a far different stance. It said Vermont’s laws should rule.

Viewed as a custody fight with national implications, gay-rights groups such as Lambda Legal and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders have joined the battle, providing legal aid to Jenkins.

No sightings since 2011

Sometime in late September 2009, Isabella and her mother arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, and were greeted by Timothy D. Miller, a Mennonite pastor who is no relation to Miller.

He took the two of them to Jinotega, a town in the “coffee-growing hills of northern Nicaragua,” according to the Times. They stayed for about two months, he told the paper, and returned to Managua, but had trouble accepting the isolation there.

Mother and daughter eventually went back to Jinotega but, in 2011, disappeared when word filtered back that Timothy Miller had been arrested in Washington, D.C., and charged with aiding in Isabella’s abduction.

By all accounts, there have been no sightings of Isabella or her mother since then. Authorities believe they are still somewhere in Nicaragua.

Lindevaldsen could not be reached to comment, but in a 2012 interview with C-SPAN, said she has no idea where her client ended up.

“It seems at one point she was in Nicaragua,” she said at the time, “but that’s all I know, as far as what’s in the court papers.”

The latest indictment also charges Timothy Miller and Philip Zodhiates with helping Lisa Miller escape the country. Zodhiates, a Virginia businessman, is accused of traveling with them to Buffalo and then contacting an unidentified individual who helped them make their way through Canada.

Zodhiates could not be reached to comment, but is expected to be arraigned Wednesday in Buffalo before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.

For Timothy Miller, this is the second round of federal charges. He was charged in 2011 after his arrest, but the government dropped the charges, reportedly because he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

A few months later, another Miller, Kenneth, a Mennonite pastor in Virginia, also was charged with aiding in Isabella’s kidnapping. None of the Millers are related.

In 2012, a federal court jury in Vermont deliberated only four hours before finding Kenneth Miller guilty. His 27-month prison sentence was stayed pending his appeal.

Defense lawyers for Kenneth and Timothy Miller could not be reached to comment, and prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont and Buffalo declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the FBI and Interpol’s search for Lisa Miller continues.

Follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook

Ironboyzz-FacebookTwitter-Ironboyzz

profile pic.jpgdroppedImage_7TM

ABP World Group™ Risk Management

Contact us here: Mail 

Skype: abpworld

NOTE: We are always available 24/7

Lesbians’ Child Custody Battle Turns Into International Manhunt


Monday, June 27, 2011
By JOHN CURRAN and FILADELFO ALEMAN, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Lisa Miller’s path from lesbian in committed relationship to international fugitive started in 2003.

She broke up with her partner, Janet Jenkins, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian before disappearing in 2009 with the daughter she had with Jenkins.

Now, what started as a custody battle over little Isabella Miller-Jenkins has turned into a global manhunt, with indications that Mennonite pastors and other faith-based supporters may have helped hide the two in Nicaragua and are now coming to the aid of one who the FBI says helped Miller.

Eager to keep the girl away from Jenkins and what they consider a dangerous and immoral lifestyle, they liken their roles to that of underground helpers aiding runaway slaves.

“God’s Holy Law never recognizes a gay marriage,” said Pablo Yoder, a Mennonite pastor in Nicaragua, in an email message to The Associated Press. “Thus, the Nicaraguan Brotherhood felt it right and good to help Lisa not only free herself from the so called civil marriage and lesbian lifestyle, but especially to protect her nine year old daughter from being abducted and handed over to an active lesbian and a whole-hearted activist.”

As the gay marriage movement gains momentum in the U.S. with impending legal recognition of the relationships in New York state, the case is a reminder of the obstacles and opposition that same-sex couples and their families can face.

The saga began in 2000, when Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont. Two years later, Miller gave birth to the girl, through artificial insemination. The couple split in 2003, with Miller renouncing her homosexuality and becoming a Baptist, then a Mennonite.

Miller was originally granted custody of the girl, but her defiance of visitation schedules led courts in Vermont and Virginia to rule in favor of Jenkins, culminating in a judge’s 2009 decision to award custody to Jenkins.

After Miller and the girl failed to show for a court-ordered custody swap on Jan. 1, 2010, to hand the girl over to Jenkins, the hunt was on. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Miller, and her daughter’s name was added to the missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

But they were long gone: In 2009, two months before the judge ordered the custody change, Miller and the girl flew to Central America and took up residence for an unknown amount of time in Nicaragua before vanishing again.

So says the FBI, which revealed in April that it had arrested Nicaraguan missionary Timothy David “Timo” Miller and charged him with abetting an international kidnapping by helping arrange travel and lodging for the two. He is awaiting trial.

According to the FBI, Timo Miller — no relation to Lisa Miller — arranged to fly Miller and her daughter from Canada to Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua.

He’d never met her until they arrived at the airport, according to Loyal Martin, a friend of Timo Miller’s.

Timo Miller has pleaded not guilty and is free on $25,000 bail, awaiting trial. His attorney, federal public defender Steven Barth, won’t discuss the case. Another lawyer for Timo Miller, Jeffrey Conrad, of Lancaster, Pa., didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Tim believes there is a higher law than the laws of any country that all people, including himself, are accountable to,” said Martin, 40, of Philadelphia, N.Y., who attended Miller’s first court appearance.

In an April 1 affidavit outlining the charge against Timo Miller, FBI agent Dana Kaegel noted the involvement of various religious groups and people involved — in some fashion — with Miller.

At a minimum, she appears to have had the support in the Mennonite community outside the capital of Managua.

Yoder, who works the remote village of Waslala, 161 miles from Managua, told The Associated Press she celebrated her daughter’s birthday in his house last year. He wouldn’t say more.

“She came here to have a good time, and we allowed her to celebrate her daughter’s birthday in my house because of the love we have for the girl,” Pablo Yoder said.

Yoder, who is mentioned in the FBI’s affidavit over an email exchange with Timo Miller planning the party, told the AP in an interview he couldn’t remember how long she stayed. She slept at the house of another pastor, according to Yoder, who would not name that person for fear it would lead to questioning by police.

Members of the church made a pact not to reveal any details to protect Timothy David Miller.

“We want to remain silent because we do not know whether it would cause him problems,” Yoder said. “The moment may arrive when we are going to want to talk, when we deem it necessary to tell Nicaragua the true story.”

Nicaraguan police haven’t questioned Yoder and other members of his church, he said in an interview last month.

“They know we are not involved in this matter,” said Yoder, who likens the help given to Lisa Miller to aid given by Mennonites and Quakers to the aid abolitionists gave runaway slaves.

Richard Huber, of Myerstown, Pa., a friend of Timo Miller’s who agreed to assume custody of him after his first court appearance, sees Timo Miller’s actions as faith-based.

“Choosing to heed God’s law over man’s would be an accurate way of putting it,” he said in an email message.

Miller may have gotten help from others drawn to her predicament for religious reasons.

The lawyer for Miller’s ex-partner, Janet Jenkins, told the FBI she got a call in June 2010 from someone — she won’t say who — who told her that Lisa Miller and the girl had stayed in a beach house in coastal San Juan del Sur, about 68 miles south of Managua.

The house is owned by Philip Zodhiates, the father of Liberty University law school administrative assistant Victoria Hyden, according to the FBI. Jenkins’ attorney, Sarah Star, told the FBI that the caller told her Zodhiates had asked his daughter to put out a request for supplies for Lisa Miller.

Located in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty University was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. An affiliate of the university, conservative Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, formerly represented Miller in her court case in Vermont over custody of the girl.

Law school dean Mathew Staver — who leads Liberty Counsel — has said Zodhiates isn’t affiliated with either.

“From our perspective, she just dropped off the face of the Earth. We haven’t heard from her or from anyone who said they’ve heard from her,” Staver said of Lisa Miller.

Miller, 42, is wanted by the FBI and Interpol, which recently requested the help of Nicaraguan police in the search. U.S. Embassy officials in Nicaragua said they don’t know where she is.

“We have clues, but we do not want to reveal them so as not to hinder our investigation,” Fernando Borge, spokesman for the Nicaraguan national police, told the AP last month. “We can’t say either, at the moment, whether she is or is not in the country.”

A security guard at the hotel Royal Chateau in San Juan del Sur, Juan Garcia, told the AP last month he remembered seeing Miller and her daughter seated along the waterfront.

Back in Vermont, Jenkins waits for word on their whereabouts, a break in the case — or both.

“It is hard to understand how anyone could consider a childhood on the run better and more stable than one surrounded by family, with two parents and two sets of grandparents who can provide love and support,” Jenkins, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said in an email.

Timo Miller, meanwhile, awaits trial on the abetting count, which could send him to prison for three years. For now, he and his wife and their four children are staying in Pennsylvania, with Huber.

Supporters have rallied to Timo Miller’s his side. At his April 25 court appearance in federal court in Burlington, Vt., dozens of supporters turned out.

More than $30,000 has been raised for his legal defense fund, and donors have provided he and his family with a minivan and an apartment, according to http://www.timomiller.org, the Timothy Miller Family Support Network’s website.

“When Isabella was about 18 months old, Lisa Miller realized the emptiness of her lesbian lifestyle, and her mother’s instinct alerted her to the danger that lifestyle posed for her young daughter. She chose to leave that lifestyle, repented of her immoral ways, and began a new life,” according to the website.

Star calls Miller’s actions kidnapping. She doesn’t buy the idea of civil disobedience.

“My understanding is that civil disobedience is an act of defiance against a government. Janet Jenkins is not the government, she is a mother who is worried sick about her daughter.”

——

Associated Press correspondent Filadelfo Aleman reported from Nicaragua.

Follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook