Virginia Woman Who Fled To Nicaragua With Her Child For More Than A Decade Pleads Guilty To International Parental Kidnapping

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A gavel and a block is pictured at the George Glazer Gallery antique store in this illustration picture taken in Manhattan, New York City

BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Attorneys Trini E. Ross, of the Western District of New York, and Nikolas Kerest, of the District of Vermont, announced today that Lisa Miller, 53, formerly of Virginia, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to international parental kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Defendant Miller was in a civil union with Janet Jenkins under Vermont law. Miller was artificially inseminated during the civil union and had a child, IMJ. In 2003, Miller sought termination of the civil union and disputes arose regarding Miller’s and Jenkins’ parental rights of IMJ. Miller disputed those parental rights in both Virginia and Vermont courts. Prior to September 2009, Jenkins had been awarded parental rights in Vermont. In early September 2009, the Vermont family court, which had jurisdiction over the dispute regarding the parental rights of IMJ, ordered that Janet Jenkins was entitled to an unsupervised parental visit with IMJ on the weekend of September 25, 2009. Miller was aware of the court ordered visit but did not want to allow unsupervised visitation for that weekend. In the early morning of September 22, 2009, Miller removed IMJ from the United States to Canada via Buffalo, NY, and eventually to Nicaragua, with the intention to take IMJ out of the country in order to obstruct Jenkins’ court ordered parental rights. Miller remained out of the country until she voluntarily returned to the United States in January 2021, after IMJ had reached 18 years of age.

Three other defendants were charged and convicted for their roles in this case. Philip Zodhiates was charged in the Western District of New York and convicted following a jury trial of international parental kidnapping and conspiracy to commit international parental kidnapping and sentenced to serve 36 months in prison. Zodhiates organized the kidnapping of IMJ. He also assisted in the recruitment of Mennonite Pastor Kenneth Miller, who was convicted following a jury trial of international parental kidnapping in the District of Vermont and sentenced to serve 27 months in prison. Timothy Miller was also charged, convicted, and sentenced to time served (eight months) for his role in assisting Lisa Miller. He purchased a one-way plane ticket for Lisa Miller and IMJ to travel from Toronto, Ontario to Nicaragua. Upon their arrival in Nicaragua, Timothy Miller assisted Lisa Miller and IMJ financially including providing them with shelter.

The plea is the culmination of an investigation by the Vermont Office of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, under the direction of Marshal Bradley Larose; and the Vermont Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent-in-Charge. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael DiGiacomo and Paul Van de Graaf are handling the case.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 9, 2022, before Judge Arcara.