A Vermont woman says the ex-partner who took their daughter and fled to Nicaragua and the Christian-right activists who aided her are guilty of racketeering and kidnapping.
Janet Jenkins’ lawsuit, filed in August in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, alleges civil rights abuses, conspiracy, money-laundering, kidnapping, mail fraud and violations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The act, commonly known as RICO, has been used to go after mobsters, motorcycle gangs, business magnates, anti-abortion activists and, most recently, a Texas health care provider.
The defendants in the suit include Jenkins’ ex, Lisa Miller, as well as pastor Kenneth Miller, Nicaragua resident and pastor Timothy Miller, Virginia pastor Doug Wright, Ohio resident Andrew Yoder, Virginia residents Philip Zodhiates, Victory Hyden Zodhiates and Linda Wall, Christian AID Ministries, Response Unlimited, Liberty University School of Law and Thomas Road Baptist Church.
In a criminal trial in August, a Vermont jury found Kenneth Miller guilty of aiding an international parental kidnapping in the Jenkins-Miller case. The government proved that Kenneth Miller helped Lisa Miller, no relation, take Isabella Ruth Miller-Jenkins, now 10, from the United States to Nicaragua, where the United States has no extradition treaty. The mother and daughter are believed to be living in that country, sheltered by the Nicaragua Beachy Amish-Mennonite Christian Brethren.
The same day the jury convicted Kenneth Miller, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven, Vt., filed her civil complaint.
Isabella Miller-Jenkins was born in 2002, when Jenkins and Miller were in a civil union in Vermont. When the child was 17-months-old, Miller took her to Virginia and filed a petition in Rutland, Vt., family court to dissolve the civil union.
Jenkins’ suit says courts in both Virginia and Vermont still recognize that Rutland family court has “exclusive jurisdiction over custody determinations regarding Isabella Miller-Jenkins, that she has a right to a relationship with both of her parents, and that it is in her best interests to have contact with both of her parents on a schedule ordered by the Court.”
Miller, at the time she was dissolving the union, was getting involved in Christian fundamentalism and joined the Keystone Baptist Church in Winchester, Va. She became friends with Wright and began to deny the court-ordered contact between Jenkins and Isabella.
As early as 2004, Miller was being cited for contempt in Vermont courts for violating the custody arrangement.
The refusal to allow Jenkins visitation with their daughter intensified when Miller moved to Lynchburg, Va., joined the Thomas Road Baptist Church, began working for the Liberty Christian Academy elementary school and was associating with anti-gay activists in the Liberty community fostered by the late evangelist Jerry Farwell Sr., an architect of the anti-gay rights movement.
In 2009, a Vermont court awarded Jenkins full custody, but she says she’s only seen her daughter twice since 2008. And Isabella Miller-Jenkins has been listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since Jan. 1, 2010.
Jenkins, in the civil suit, says that’s because a network of anti-gay, Christian right activists helped Miller flee the United States with her daughter and the organized network continues to shield Miller in Nicaragua.
Jenkins says Lisa Miller fled the United States in September 2009, carrying out a plan concocted with Christian right activists throughout the summer of 2009 and possibly discussed as early as June 2008. That’s when allies associated with Liberty and Thomas Road Baptist Church helped establish The Protect Isabella Coalition. Jerry Falwell Jr., who succeeded his father as chancellor of Liberty University, donated substantial sums to the coalition, according to Jenkins’ suit.
The flight from the U.S. took place on Sept. 22, 2009, when “Lisa Miller and Isabella were transported, in disguise as Amish-Mennonites, to the Canadian border by Philip Zodhiates and at least one other Response Unlimited, Inc. employee. Lisa Miller and Isabella crossed the border at the Rainbow Bridge in a taxi in the early morning hours of September 22, 2009.” From there, aided by Zodhiates and Kenneth Miller, the two flew to Mexico, then El Salvador and then met Timothy Miller, no relation, in Nicaragua.
Lisa Miller’s attorneys at Liberty Counsel have maintained they were unaware of her plans to flee the country, but phone records show calls from Zodhiates to Liberty Counsel numbers on Sept. 22, 2009.
Two months later, in November 2009, according to Jenkins’ suit, elders of the Thomas Road Baptist Church packed up the personal belongings of Lisa Miller in two bags. These bags were picked up from Lynchburg, Va., by Philip Zodhiates, who arranged to have the bags transported to Nicaragua and delivered at the airport to Timothy Miller.
On Nov. 20, 2009, with Lisa Miller and Isabella in Nicaragua, the Rutland, Vt., Family Court issued its order that “legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities for Isabella are to be transferred to plaintiff Janet Jenkins.”
Lisa Miller’s allies at Liberty described the defiance of the court order as Christian civil disobedience and have continued to collect money for her through the Friends of Lisa Miller campaign.