New Charges in Virginia Kidnapping Over Custody

The New York Times/October 8, 2014

By Erik Eckholmoct

Five years after Lisa A. Miller fled the country with her daughter, Isabella, to avoid handing custody to a lesbian former partner, a conservative Christian businessman from Virginia has been charged with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping.

The businessman, Philip Zodhiates, is accused of driving Ms. Miller and her daughter from Virginia to Buffalo in September 2009. The pair, disguised in the long dresses and scarves of Mennonites, crossed into Canada and then flew to Nicaragua.

Mr. Zodhiates was arraigned Wednesday in Federal District Court in Buffalo. He pleaded not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. He was also ordered to turn in his passport. A trial has not yet been scheduled.

Mr. Zodhiates owns Response Unlimited, which sells conservative mailing lists, in Waynesboro, Va. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and the kidnapping charge three years.

Also included in the indictments were Ms. Miller, who prosecutors believe remains in hiding in rural Nicaragua with her daughter, and Timothy Miller, a missionary in Nicaragua of the Beachy Amish Mennonite sect. Mr. Miller, who is not related to Ms. Miller, has admitted to greeting the mother and daughter on their arrival in Nicaragua and helping them get settled.

The fate of Isabella, now 12, became a cause of conservative Christians who wanted to help her avoid exposure to what they considered a sinful “homosexual lifestyle.” In 2003, Ms. Miller had split up with the girl’s second legal mother, Janet Jenkins, whom she had joined in a civil union. She moved from Vermont to Virginia and declared herself a born-again Christian.

Frustrated that Ms. Miller had blocked court-ordered visitations, a Vermont family court threatened in late 2009 to transfer primary custody to Ms. Jenkins, which is when the mother and daughter disappeared.

Another Amish Mennonite pastor, Kenneth L. Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., who helped arrange the pair’s travel to Nicaragua, was convicted in 2012 of abetting international parental kidnapping. His sentence of 27 months has been delayed while he appeals the venue of his trial, which was in Vermont. (Kenneth Miller is not related to either Lisa or Timothy Miller.)

The original charges against Timothy Miller were dropped in 2011 when he agreed to testify. He provided reluctant testimony on videotape but did not return to the United States for Kenneth Miller’s trial.

Timothy Miller’s lawyer, Jeff Conrad of Lancaster, Pa., accused the government of breaking its promise to his client. But the United States attorney’s office in Buffalo said that Mr. Miller had not abided by the agreement.

Ms. Jenkins said in a statement that she and other relatives “sorely missed” Isabella and asked that anyone with information about her whereabouts contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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