Juan A. Lozano
HOUSTON - A Brazilian couple accused of helping their daughter kidnap their Texas grandson and keep him in Brazil for the last five years would use their vast wealth to flee the U.S. if released on bond, prosecutors alleged during a federal court hearing Wednesday.
However, attorneys, family members and friends told a magistrate judge that Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes are not a flight risk and only want to have their day in court to prove their innocence.
The court appearance in Houston was the couple's first in Texas since being arrested earlier this month in Miami after flying in from Brazil. Each has been indicted on two counts — international parental kidnapping and conspiracy. Both remain in federal custody.
Prosecutors allege the couple helped their daughter, Marcelle Guimaraes, keep her son in Brazil after she took him there in 2013 and failed to return to the United States, violating a custody order she had with her husband, Christopher Brann, who is a Houston doctor. Marcelle Guimaraes also has been indicted in the case. She and her 8-year-old son, Nico, remain in Brazil.
Federal prosecutor Sherri Zack argued during the all-day detention hearing that Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes would use their fortune — estimated by authorities to be at least $11 million —to go back to Brazil and never return to the United States if released on bond. Zack told U.S. Magistrate Judge Dena Palermo that the couple has refused to disclose to authorities all of their financial assets. Carlos Guimaraes is president of ED&F Man Brasil, a commodities trading firm, while his wife owns a young children's school in Brazil.
"If they are let out, they will be gone," Zack said.
Rusty Hardin, attorney for Carlos Guimaraes, argued the couple would not flee because it would damage their professional reputations and endanger their family's financial well-being. Hardin also argued the couple were only supporting their daughter and thought they were helping her escape an abusive relationship.
"There is not a single bit of evidence that suggests they were doing anything against the law," Hardin said.
Palermo, who wants more information on the couple's finances, delayed a decision on bond until at least Friday.
At the time of the alleged kidnapping, a state district court in Houston had granted joint custody of the boy to Marcelle Guimaraes and Brann as they were getting divorced. A Texas judge in 2015 ordered that the boy's primary residence be in Harris County, where Houston is located.
Brann's attorneys said they are appealing a ruling in 2015 by a Brazilian judge that denied the boy's return to the U.S. under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty for governmental co-operation on such cases.
Authorities allege Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes helped their daughter conceal her plans to keep the boy in Brazil by misleading Brann about her plans and by helping enrol the boy in a school in Brazil run by Jemima Guimaraes ahead of his arrival in the country.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Petrowski testified Wednesday that since the couple's arrest, Brann has not been able to speak with his son. The agent also said the couple had strictly controlled Brann's visits with his son in Brazil, including having armed guards supervise their visits.
After the hearing, Brann said he was a good father and denied the domestic abuse allegations that were made against him in court.
"My only interest in this case is having my son returned," Brann said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70 .