Brazilian grandparents sentenced in international kidnapping case
HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The Brazilian couple convicted with kidnapping their grandson from Houston have been sentenced in that case.
Carlos Guimaraes has been sentenced to three months in prison while Jemima Guimaraes has been sentenced to one month in prison. Both of them will serve one year of supervised probation upon their release. Both of them were found guilty on one count and not guilty on another.
The judge is allowing the couple to turn themselves in after the holidays in mid-January.
“We’re delighted the judge did everything possible to be fair to both sides,” says the Guimaraes’ Attorney Rusty Hardin.
The grandparents could have spent two years in prison, but the judge says he took their age and clean legal history into consideration.
“The way they've treated me and my entire family is nothing short of horrific,” says Nico’s dad Dr. Chris Brann.
This all started in 2012 when Dr. Brann and his wife Marcelle were divorcing. A Harris County court granted joint custody. However, in 2013, Brann's ex took their 3-year-old son Nico to Brazil and never returned.
She lived with her parents and a Brazilian court granted Marcelle sole custody based on allegations of abuse.
A spokesperson for Marcelle, Wayne Dolcefino, says she's devastated her parents are going to prison.
“It’s an outrage, because think about what we’ve just done. We’ve just sent grandparents to prison for protecting their daughter who was a victim of domestic violence,” says Dolcefino.
“Regardless of whatever kind of excuses you’re going to come up with to try to justify the abduction of a child, you will still be held to account, arrested, tried and convicted and you will go to jail,” says Brann’s attorney Jared Genser, who says this sentencing sends a message.
Brann denies he abused his wife and says the relationship with his son is now destroyed. He points to the last conversation he had with Nico last week.
“He said 'daddy release my grandparents'. Then he called back and he said 'daddy I don't want to speak to you. I hate you.'”
The judge is also considering if the grandparents will have to pay restitution to Dr. Brann and reimburse him for the 20 visits he took to Brazil to see his son.
The United States Department of Justice U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Texas released the following statement regarding the sentencing:
An international businessman and his wife have learned their fate for international parental kidnapping, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick and Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI. A federal jury deliberated for more than two days following a 10-day trial before convicting Carlos Otavio Guimaraes, 68, and Jemima Guimaraes, 66.
Today, U.S. District Judge Alfred Bennett heard arguments from both the prosecution and defense teams. The government requested the court impose a term of imprisonment advised by the sentencing guidelines or slightly higher, while the defense asked for a non-custodial sentence. Ultimately, the court imposed a three-month sentence for Carlos Guimaraes, while Jemima was ordered to serve one month. Both will also be ordered to serve one year of supervised release following their terms of imprisonment during which time they will be required to remain in the United States. The court continued its order that both their U.S. and Brazilian passports remain surrendered and they cannot obtain new ones. The court also ordered the defendants may not have any contact with their fugitive co-defendant daughter, but placed no prohibition on communicating with their grandson.
Each was also ordered to pay a $75,000 fine. Restitution will be determined at a later date, but could be in excess of $400,000.
At the hearing, the judge also heard from the victim – the child’s father – who gave impassioned testimony about how this has impacted him and how much he misses his son. He stated that he has been “emotionally crippled by this experience. What my family and I have endured at the hands of these defendants has been so painful that I cannot imaging inflicting it on another human soul. How do you take away a parent’s right to have their child in their life?” He further noted that he has been consumed by grief. “My boy was just gone,” he said. “For years, I have begged and begged and begged them to bring my boy back, but they refused.”
The father also told the court the court that each trip to Brazil to see his son for even a short time cost him close to $20,000 and that, for years, he had been working an enormous amount of hours - averaging 100 a week - just to finance his fight to try to get his son back.
He also noted that what these defendants did was devoid of any concern for the child’s well-being, that the decision was motivated by greed, power, control and fear – fear not of him, but that he would get in the way of them taking the child for themselves. “They sought to enforce their own brand of vigilante justice,” he said, adding that the couple had undermined orders, lied to the court and succeeded in obtaining full custody of the child, noting they had stripped him of his parental rights, “making a mockery of the United States judicial system.”
At trial, the jury heard that the child’s grandparents helped illegally retain the child in Brazil away from his father in Houston. The mother and minor child traveled to Brazil to attend a family event in July 2013, but were supposed to return to Houston no later than July 20, 2013. The child was never returned to the United States.
The jury also heard how the child’s mother allegedly orchestrated a plan to travel to Brazil for her brother’s wedding via an agreed travel agreement as part of the pending divorce. While in Brazil, she went to a Brazilian state court and obtained custody of the minor. From that moment forward, the father of the child was limited in his ability to visit with his son. The visits he did have were supervised by a guard hired by the child’s mother. Currently, despite a Harris County divorce ruling in 2015 favorable to the father, his ability to maintain a relationship with his son has been incredibly difficult. The child no longer speaks English, and the father had to learn Portuguese to navigate the Brazilian legal system and communicate with his son.
The child’s father testified and told the jury that all he ever wanted was for his son to return to Houston so he could be a constant presence in his life.
Evidence was also presented which included the fact that the grandparents support their daughter by providing housing and employment as well as attorney fees. Additionally, when the father would visit Brazil, Jemima was present for most of the exchanges of the child. Video evidence showed both Carlos, Jemima, the hired guard and their Brazilian attorney at one of the exchanges.
The defense attempted to convince the jury that the Brazilian court rulings should be respected despite the fact they disregard the father’s position. The rulings found the United States was not the place to raise a child in the “egotistical profile of the American family.”
The defense provided an expert on the Hague Convention to testify, but that expert was unable to give even one example of a child that has been returned from Brazil when the abducting parent was alive and domiciled in Brazil. Further, the expert acknowledge the U.S. State Department has found Brazil to be non-compliant with the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction since 2005.
The defendants claimed the mother was fleeing from domestic violence, but the jury rejected that defense. The jury ultimately found Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes aided and abetted their daughter in the international parental kidnapping of their grandson.
They were permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The child’s mother - Marcelle Guimaraes, 40 - is also charged but remains a fugitive in Brazil. She is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
The FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sherri L. Zack and Kimberly Ann Leo are prosecuting the case.
If you are a parent or legal custodian who has been deprived of your child through abduction, please see the Department of Justice’s International Parental Kidnapping webpage for more information.