To Be Reunited With Son After 5 Years
July 27, 2002. The Hartford Courant
By KAREN GUZMAN, Courant Staff Writer
Only weeks after reaching a confidential court agreement with the person he believes helped hide his son from him, Jeffrey Rubenstein will at last be reunited with his child, who is now in Connecticut.
Federal agents in Florida recovered 8-year-old Randy Rubenstein Thursday night, marking the end of his father's five-year search for the boy.
Randy was returned to Connecticut Friday evening and is in the custody of state child protective officials, a family spokesman said. The Rubenstein family hopes to be visit with Randy sometime this weekend at an undisclosed location, the spokesman said.
Randy's mother, Bonnie Rubenstein, 41, was being held Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla., after her arrest and Randy's recovery by FBI agents in Delray Beach, Fla. A bond hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in federal court.
Randy was abducted by his mother five years ago in a case that captured the nation's attention and helped expose the workings of the shadowy Children of the Underground organization. The group, once headed by Faye Yager of North Carolina, is a loosely linked international network that hides runaway non-custodial parents and their children.
Pressure has mounted in the missing-child case over the last two months, fueled by developments in Jeffrey Rubenstein's pending $90 million lawsuit against Yager and a growing interest on the part of Connecticut legislators and the FBI.
Friday afternoon, in Waterford, stunned but happy Rubenstein family members gathered in front of grandfather Sam Rubenstein's home for a press conference. Inside, the family's phone rang non-stop. Flower deliveries arrived.
"Yesterday I was in shock," said Jeffrey Rubenstein, a Waterford resident who received news of his son's recovery on his cellphone while driving in Groton Thursday night.
Rubenstein's brother, Rick, traveled to Florida Friday morning and returned with Randy shortly after 10 p.m., said Harry Boardsen, the Rubensteins' private investigator. A family court hearing must be held before Randy can be returned to his father's custody, Boardsen said.
"I think it's in the best interest of my son to have him live with my brother and his wife, who have two children my son's age," Rubenstein said. "They live next door to the grandparents, and [they] are the godmother and the godfather," Rubenstein said. "There's going to be a slow transition to my house."
Congratulations poured in to the Rubensteins all day Friday.
"I've got one shoe on and one shoe off. I've been trying to get dressed for the last three hours," Sam Rubenstein said at about 9:30 a.m. "Everyone is calling."
Bonnie Rubenstein disappeared into the Children of the Underground organization in 1997 with Randy, then 3, after a Connecticut court granted Jeffrey sole custody of his son.
Once they went underground, allegations surfaced that Jeffrey had abused her and sexually abused Randy. Bonnie's charges of physical abuse were not deemed credible in court. Her later claims of her husband's sexual abuse of the boy had not been raised during the custody battle.
Yager, in a voice-mail message Friday evening, said the courts should be cautious in returning Randy to his father. "The mother's not the issue now," said Yager, "but the child is. ... I don't care what the Rubenstein guy says. I believe he's guilty of child molestation."
The Rubenstein family, owners of the downtown New London landmark clothing store Marcus, has steadfastly maintained Jeffrey's innocence. They have also searched unceasingly for Randy, spending $300,000 on investigators, lawyers and travel.
Boardsen, a private investigator based in Mystic, has spearheaded the family's quest.
Randy was recovered at the Delray Beach, Fla., apartment of Jackie Dembroff, Bonnie Rubenstein's sister. Special Agent Alan Santiago, from the FBI's Fugitive Task Force in Miami, arrested Bonnie Rubenstein at about 9 p.m Thursday.
"We got a tip that they were there, so our agent went over there and saw them walking from the pool into the apartment," said Judy Orihuela, FBI spokeswoman in Miami.
"He called in the reinforcement - the FBI and Delray Beach Police Department - and then we had to get a verbal search warrant from the judge so we could go into the apartment. We got the search warrant at around 8:30," Orihuela said. "She was arrested without incident."
A neighbor in Dembroff's upscale, gated town home complex said he witnessed the arrest. Officials forced open the apartment door after no one answered their knocking, the neighbor said.
He also said he had been seeing both Bonnie and Randy, whom he called "David," around the complex for the past two months. He said Bonnie told him she was visiting from Spain.
He said "David" frequently used the pool and had befriended other children in the complex.
Dembroff declined to comment.
The FBI has had a warrant for Bonnie's arrest on charges of custodial interference and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution since Dec. 21, 1997.
Her arrest, and Randy's recovery, come only weeks after Rubenstein's and Yager's lawyers reached a confidential agreement July 11 that delayed the start of the civil trial for 90 days. The Rubensteins are seeking $90 million in damages from Yager, who has admitted aiding Bonnie Rubenstein's flight.
U.S. District Judge Willis B. Hunt Jr. in Atlanta had ordered the case into federal mediation on July 8, prompting the July 11 agreement.
"The court case, we believe, played an extremely significant role in [Randy's] return," said Gary Bunch, Rubenstein's attorney, who has logged more than 1,000 hours on this case.
Bunch credited the judge for setting a tone that made it clear the trial would be fair.
Hunt held three long pretrial hearings during which he excluded irrelevant, inflammatory evidence that would have been used against Rubenstein and made it clear that he would not tolerate any of the courtroom hijinks for which Yager has been known, Bunch said.
"The judge did not issue a written order, but from the comments he made in those hearings it was obvious Mr. Rubenstein was going to receive a very fair trial," Bunch said.
"We agreed to the stay of the trial for 90 days. Obviously, if we did not obtain what we believed was significant movement to accomplish our goals, we would not have agreed to a stay - and then on July 25 the child was returned," Bunch said. "We had overwhelming evidence of Mrs. Yager's culpability, so she had every reason to avoid trial."
Jeffrey and Bonnie met as teenagers working in the Rubensteins' Marcus shop. They were married in 1992 and divorced in 1997.
Boardsen, the private investigator, has criticized what he saw as lax law enforcement in the Rubenstein case.
"It's been a long haul, and I've created some enemies along the way because I made them stay the course," an emotional Boardsen said Friday morning. "I knew it was going to happen. I just had to stay with it."
On June 27, Boardsen, Rubenstein, Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, and a representative from the office of Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., met with staffers from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.
"I think it helped that we spent three hours down at the center [for missing and exploited children] and they worked with the FBI," Simmons said. "We all know we're operating in a post-Sept. 11 environment, and the FBI's under tremendous pressure to provide security for the nation, and it may be in that context that some of these other priorities got lost."
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel Staff Writer Nancy Othon contributed to this report.
Who Fled With Child Arrested In Miami
2:11 AM EDT,July 26, 2002
WATERFORD, Conn. -- A woman who fled from her ex-husband in 1997, taking their son with her, has been arrested by federal agents in Miami, The Day of New London reported Friday.
Bonnie Rubenstein and the boy, Randy, now 8, were taken into custody by the FBI Thursday night, the newspaper reported.
A federal agent in New Haven called Jeffrey Rubenstein, the woman's ex-husband, to give him the news Thursday night.
"I'm in shock," Rubenstein said just after midnight Friday. "I'm speechless. It caught me totally off guard."
Rubenstein had taken his search for his son nationwide and to the media.
Detective Harry Boardsen of Mystic, who helped the Rubenstein family with the search, was with Jeffrey Rubenstein and his parents, Sam and Phylaine Rubenstein of Waterford, Thursday night. Boardsen said the family had little information other than the fact that the two had been found and taken into custody.
Bonnie Rubenstein fled with her son in September 1997, the day after a New London Superior Court judge awarded full custody of the boy to his father. She reportedly disappeared with the help of Faye Yager, an Atlanta woman whose underground network hides abused mothers and children.
Bonnie Rubenstein was believed at one point to be hiding in Europe, a fugitive from kidnapping charges in Waterford.
The Day reported that after Bonnie Rubenstein hooked up with Yager in Atlanta, she alleged that her ex-husband had physically and sexually abused their son.
The Rubensteins were married on June 21, 1992.
The marriage eventually began to disintegrate for a variety of reasons, and Rubenstein filed for divorce in March 1996.
Boardsen said Jeffrey Rubenstein's family was awaiting further information from the FBI.