The Defendants are members of a Jewish religious community, Lev Tahor. Defendant Nachman Helbrans is the leader of this community. In October 2018, Helbrans’ sister left the community in Guatemala with her six children and relocated to the United States. In November 2018, she obtained a temporary sole custody order of the six children in Kings County Family Court, and enjoined the child’s father, Aaron Teller, from communicating with the children. In December 2018, Defendants traveled to the United States and allegedly kidnapped the children to Mexico. On December 18, 2018, Mexican law enforcement raided a house and detained the Defendants (later arresting another Defendant in Brooklyn). The Defendants in Mexico were deported to the U.S., and detained upon arrival. After an exhaustive search, the minors were located, and returned to their mother. Three months later, the minors were the subject of an attempted kidnapping by some of the Defendants. The Defendants were charged under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act. On May 29, 2019, the children’s father, Mr. Teller, filed a Hague Abduction return petition in the EDNY to return his six children to Guatemala. Teller’s motion was denied with prejudice because he refused to actually participate in the proceeding. The 2nd Circuit dismissed his appeal because he did not file the required form. In March 2021, the children were the subject of yet another attempted kidnapping, in New York.
Among other arguments, the Defendants moved to dismiss the IPKCA counts of the indictment, arguing that IPKCA is unconstitutional as applied to them because the terms “parental rights” and “has been in the United States” are void for vagueness.
“The IPKCA provides that ‘[w]hoever removes a child from the United States, or attempts to do so, or retains a child (who has been in the United States) outside the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 3 years, or both.'” 18 U.S.C. 1204(a). Defendants acknowledge that the Mother of the children at issue had obtained a NY court order granting her temporary custody, but now argue that the NY court should have never issued that order. This Court, however, need not analyze whether the NY family court had jurisdiction under the UCCJEA to grant a custody order, because the custody order is irrelevant. The Defendants were unable to argue that the Mother had no parental rights. Any amount of parental rights is sufficient. In addition, the Defendants acknowledge that the children were physically present in the United States at the time of the alleged kidnapping, but argue it was for an insufficient amount of time (1 month). However, nowhere is there a requirement that the children have been in the United States for a specific period of time. The mother intended that they permanently relocate to NY. Therefore, this was not a situation of a few minute layover at a U.S. airport or even a week-long vacation, where IPKCA might not apply.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss was denied on July 8, 2021 by the U.S. District Court for the SDNY.