BUFFALO, N.Y. (WHSV) — UPDATE (Mar. 22, 2017):
A Waynesboro businessman convicted of helping a woman flee the country with her child in a same-sex custody fight has been sentenced in New York to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
Philip Zodhiates (zoh-dee-AH'-tehs), of Waynesboro, Virginia, was sentenced Wednesday. A federal judge in Buffalo, New York, convicted him last year of international parental kidnapping and conspiracy.
Prosecutors say Zodhiates helped Lisa Miller take her then-7-year-old daughter out of the country to avoid losing custody to her former partner after Miller dissolved her civil union in Vermont and became an evangelical Christian. Authorities say Zodhiates drove the pair from Virginia to the Canadian border in 2009 so they could fly from Toronto to Nicaragua.
After arriving in Nicaragua, Miller was sheltered and assisted by others who had been recruited by Zodhiates.
Neither has been seen in the U.S. since.
Zodhiates says Miller took advantage of him.
Lisa Miller is also charged with international parental kidnapping and conspiracy to commit international parental kidnapping but remains a fugitive. Also charged in this case is Timothy Miller (no relation) from Nicaragua. He was recently arrested after being deported by Nicaragua and is due to appear at a later date in the Western District of New York.
A fourth defendant, Kenneth Miller (also not related) from Virginia, was charged and convicted of international parental kidnapping in the District of Vermont in 2012. Kenneth Miller is currently serving a 27-month prison sentence.
The sentencing is the culmination of an investigation by the Vermont Office of the United States Marshal’s Service, under the direction of David Damag, and the Vermont Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Andrew Vale, Special Agent-in-Charge.
ORIGINAL STORY (Sept. 29, 2016):
A Waynesboro businessman has been found guilty of international parental kidnapping after getting involved in a Vermont same-sex couple's child custody fight.
A federal jury in Buffalo returned the verdict against Philip Zodhiates (zoh-dee-YAH'-taze) on Thursday following a trial that began last week. Zodhiates was also found guilty of conspiracy.
He faces up to eight years in prison.
The verdict, which followed a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, is the latest development in a case that has captured the nation’s interest and cast a spotlight on issues such as same sex marriage and parental rights.
Prosecutors say the Waynesboro, Virginia, resident helped a woman - Lisa A. Miller - and her 7-year-old daughter leave the country in 2009 when it was clear the woman — who had renounced her homosexuality — was losing a custody battle to her former partner.
Prosecutors say that Zodhiates drove Lisa Miller and the child from Virginia to the Rainbow Bridge, in western New York, where they crossed into Canada on their way to Nicaragua.
Prosecutors say the kidnapping was Miller’s attempt at keeping Isabella away from Janet Jenkins, her former partner, and what Miller now calls “the homosexual lifestyle.
Miller and Jenkins separated in late 2003 and eventually ended their civil union in Vermont. When Miller moved back to Virginia and tried to stop visits by Jenkins, the courts intervened and, at one point, appeared on the verge of transferring custody to Jenkins.
Prosecutors say that’s when Miller fled Virginia.
Jenkins, who took the witness stand in the case, told the jury she intends to do “anything and everything” to bring her daughter, now 14, back to the United States.
During the trial, prosecutors called a series of witnesses and presented a trail of emails intended to prove Zodhiates helped Miller flee Virginia in an effort to keep Isabella away from Jenkins.
“It was piece by piece," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiGiacamo said of the evidence linking Zodhiates to the kidnapping. “I don’t think it was one single of evidence that swayed the jury.”
Defense lawyers argued that Zodhiates acted out of a desire to help Miller, not a desire to deny Jenkins her parental rights.
“Lisa’s secrecy and deception should not rub off on Philip." Robert B. Hemley, one of Zodhiates’s defense lawyers, said in his summation. “There is no such thing as guilt by association.”
Zodhiates was an owner of Response Unlimited, a business in Waynesboro. In 2014, a sales manager with the company told WHSV the company has no official comment and would not talk on this matter.
You can find WHSV's coverage of this story from 2014 in the Related Stories section of this article.