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RICO Suit Filed Against Liberty University and Others Over Isabella Miller-Jenkins Kidnapping

Jim Burroway

August 15th, 2012

Yesterday, Mennonite minister Kenneth Miller was convicted of aiding and abetting the abduction of Isabella Miller-Jenkins by her mother, Lisa Miller, who fled to Nicaragua with Isabella in violation of a court order transferring custody of Isabella to her former partner Janet Jenkins. (Kenneth Miller is reportedly not related to Lisa Miller.) During the trial, jurors heard testimony which revealed a wide-ranging conspiracy to illegally transport Lisa Miller and Isabella to Nicaragua, which has no extradition treaty with the United States. That conspiracy included several people, including those with ties to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University

While the jury was deliberating, Janet Jenkins filed a lawsuit (PDF: 415KB/17 pages) with the U.S. District Court in Vermont under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), naming the following as defendants in an alleged international conspiracy to facilitate the kidnapping of Isabella Miller-Jenkins:

  • Kenneth L. Miller (No relation to Lisa Miller)
  • Lisa Ann Miller f/k/a Lisa Miller Jenkins
  • Timothy D. Miller (No relation to Lisa Miller)
  • Andrew Yoder, individually and as an agent for Christian AID Ministries, Inc.
  • Christian AID Ministries Inc.
  • Response Unlimited, Inc.
  • Philip Zodhiates, individually and as an agent for Response Unlimited, Inc.
  • Victoria Hyden f/k/a/ Victoria Zodhiates, individually and as an agent for both Repsonse Unlimited, Inc and Liberty University School of Law and its related ministry, Thomas Road Baptist Church
  • Liberty University School of Law and its related ministry, Thomas Road Baptist Church
  • Linda M Wall, individually and as an agent for Thomas Road Baptist Church.
  • Douglas Wright

The filing ties these names together in a remarkably detailed timeline in its charge against the defendants. Some of the info in this document have been reported before, and some of it appears to have come from the FBI’s original criminal complaint against Timithy Miller. The lawsuit alleges that by late summer of 2009, Lisa Miller, who had moved to Virginia with the assistance of Thomas Road Baptist Church:

35. On September 19, 2009, two days before her departure for Nicaragua, Lisa Miller and Isabella travelled back to Winchester, VA. During this trip, Lisa arranged to meet Defendant Wright in a parking lot so that she and Isabella could say “good-bye” to him. Defendant Wright testified under oath that by good-bye, he understood that Lisa and Isabella were leaving and he would not be seeing them again. At this meeting, Lisa Miller also asked Defendant Wright to help her dispose of some personal items. Pastor Wright understood that Lisa Miller would be taking Isabella away, and he did nothing to notify law enforcement of the situation

36. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff Janet Jenkins, on September 21,2009, 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, just days prior to the contact ordered by the Rutland Family Court in its September 2009 Interim Order.

37. In the days prior to September 22, 2009, Lisa Miller and Philip Zodhiates conspired with Kenneth Miller, a member of the Virginia Beachy Amish-Mennonite Brotherhood with whom both Victoria and Philip Zodhiates were acquainted, to arrange the purchase of plane tickets from Canada to Nicaragua for Lisa Miller and Isabella Miller-Jenkins. Kenneth Miller also arranged for a Canadian member of the Brotherhood to transport Lisa Miller from an Ontario Hotel to the Toronto airport. Lisa Miller and Isabella Miller-Jenkins flew to Mexico, then El Salvador, and then met Timothy Miller in Nicaragua. Timothy Miller was instructed by Kenneth Miller to purchase plane tickets for Lisa Miller and Isabella, and used his mother-in-law’s credit card to do so. Several days later, Kenneth Miller used cash to send a money order to reimburse Timothy Miller’s mother-in-law. This was done anonymously, and in such a way as to avoid detection in a clear effort to avoid the September visit, and the anticipated transfer of custody.

Timothy Miller was arrested in April, 2011 and charged with aiding in the removal of a child from the U.S. and retaining a child with intent to obstruct parental rights. Charges were later dropped in exchange for Timothy Miller’s cooperation, but it was during his arrest that the FBI’s criminal complaint detailed a wider network of conspirators in the kidnapping saga. Some of the information revealed in that criminal complaint makes its appearance in this lawsuit, but with a few additional details tying it all together:

38. Kenneth Miller was a pastor at the Pilgrim Christian Fellowship in Stuart’s Draft, VA and a leader within the Beachy Amish-Mennonite Community. He was also employed at his family’s garden center, Millmont Greenhouses, Inc., in Stuart’s Draft, VA.

39. Starting in September 2009, Lisa Miller and Isabella lived near or among the Beachy Amish-Mennonite Community in Nicaragua, hereinafter the (“Nicaragua Brethren”). This was all done in secret and in such a way as to avoid detection by United States authorities and Janet Jenkins. Lisa Miller would eventually go into “hiding” with Isabella among the Nicaragua Brethren, but would continue to communicate with members of Thomas Road Baptist Church with the assistance of Mr. Zodhiates, Kenneth Miller and members of the Nicaragua Brethren. Lisa Miller went by the name “Sarah” and Isabella was called “Lydia” while in Nicaragua.

41. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff Janet Jenkins, in 2009 Victoria Zodhiates (now Hyden) was an employee of Response Unlimited, Inc., and also a “student worker” at Liberty University School of Law. On information and belief, Victoria Zodhiates sent an email during this time period to her co-workers at the law school requesting donations for supplies to send to Lisa Miller to enable her to remain outside the country. Lisa Miller’s attorney, Matthew Staver was the Dean of the Law School and Ms. Zodhiates’s boss. Matthew Staver and Philip Zodhiates were also personal acquaintances at this time. On September 20, 2009, both Philip Zodhiates and Victoria Hyden called Lisa Miller’s father, Terry Miller in Tennessee to assist in arranging her and Isabella’s transportation from a Walmart parking lot in Lynchburg, Virginia, to Waynesboro, Virginia, from whence they would depart for Canada and Nicaragua the next day.

New to this lawsuit is the allegation which, if proven true, would directly implicate Thomas Road Baptist Church as part of the conspiracy:

42. In early November, 2009, 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, Virginia by Philip Zodhiates who arranged to have the bags transported to Nicaragua by sending them with his son’s school teacher who was taking some children on a mission trip to Managua. Philip Zodhiates arranged for the teacher, John Collmus, to deliver the bags at the airport to Timothy Miller. The bags also contained some supplies for Lisa Miller, such as peanut butter.

The lawsuit also includes the incident which we reported in December, 2009, when Deborah Thurman,  the facilitator of an apparently defunct ex-gay ministry in Lynchburg, VA, called The Formers, posted a threat of civil violence on her web site. The complaint also includes the revelation that Lisa Miller’s attorneys, Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, both professors at Liberty University’s Law School, provided a case history nearly identical to the Miller-Jenkins case and instructed their students that the proper course of action would be to engage in “civil disobedience” and defy the court order.

The problem with conspiracies is that the more people who are involved, the greater the chance is that one of them will have a bit too big of a mouth and draw attention to the operation. In addition to Thurman’s reckless blog post, another member of the conspiracy felt compelled to brag as well. In 2008, Linda Wall and other members of Thomas Road Baptist Church, had formed the Protect Isabella Coalition (PIC), when it became clear to them that Virginia law would not prevent Janet Jenkins from gaining custody of Isabella. PIC allegedly was the nucleus of the movement that morphed into the larger conspiracy. According to the lawsuit, Linda Wall essentially admitted that there was an active kidnapping conspiracy and that she as a part of it.

51. In January 2010, Linda Wall appeared on television with several members of the PIC and TRBC [Thomas Road Baptist Church], including TRBC’s Pastor for Outreach and Assimilation Tipton Killingsworth, to endorse the kidnapping. In discussing her role, Wall compared herself to Harriet Tubman, and suggested she would take similar actions with regard to more children from same-sex families. Pastor Killingsworth also publically supported Lisa Miller’s actions and threatened ongoing kidnapping activity. He wrote in an internet chat on February 22, 2010:

“No one has been “kidnapped. “It may come to that as when the Pharoah tried to do the same thing to the Israelites in Egypt. Just as it was necessary for Moses to be in the basket, that might be necessary for Izzy but time will tell. As you’ve said, Lisa is certainly Izzy’s refuge from the VT law. “

52. Defendant Wall also wrote on Facebook that if anyone knew of Lisa and Isabella’s whereabouts, they should not tell anyone. She also made several phone calls to law enforcement to instruct them that they should not look for Lisa and Isabella.

This just carries us to 2010. There is so much more, including allegations of money laundering, Liberty University Law School employees who were fired, and Law School employees (the same ones perhaps?) who were “too intimidated to come forward to law enforcement for fear of angering Dean Staver and losing their jobs.” If Janet Jenkins’s lawyer has the proof to back up these allegations — and it appears that much of it is already available from various criminal complaints and Kenneth Miller’s trial testimony — then the trial promises to be an exceptionally enlightening affair. I can hardly wait.

Comments

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SharonB
August 15th, 2012 | LINK

I hope they take these evil people down, and their nasty little law school accreditation and bar membership too. Of course these Christianists will scream how they are being persecuted. : (

pax58
August 15th, 2012 | LINK

I trually worry about the great divide in this country and where it is headed. I have been cut off from much of my family back east, not far from where are this is taking place because they are shamed and embarrassed by my sexual orientation. Liberty University is the largest provider of federal student loans in the state of VA and at least four of my family members have attended or are attending that school. It is really frightening how far Jerry Falwell’s people will go to support the hate and theocracy they started putting together when Reagan was in office. I am not being overly dramtic when I say that violent times are ahead. It makes me sad. Somewhere in Central Amercia a little girl is being taught to hate one of her mothers, so much for Christian compassion and family values.

Wes
August 15th, 2012 | LINK

Typo in the title…..LibertRy.

Bernie
August 16th, 2012 | LINK

Will this threaten the non-profit status of any of them?

The Lauderdale
August 16th, 2012 | LINK

Kind of wish someone would throw in an animal abuse charge. I thought this was a miserable case already; then I found out about the hamsters Miller left to starve to death while she abducted her kid. Real classy.

“Isabella was 7 when she and Ms. Miller jumped into a car in Virginia, leaving behind their belongings and a family of pet hamsters to die without food or water. […]
Ms. Wall said that after no one had heard from Ms. Miller for three weeks, she let herself into her house outside Lynchburg.
“Inside, it looked like she had just gone to the grocery store,” Ms. Wall recalled. The curling iron was sitting out and the closets were filled. When she discovered the dead hamster family, she said, she knew they were long gone.
“I thought, wow, congratulations Lisa Miller, you did it,” she recalled.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/us/a-civil-union-ends-in-an-abduction-and-questions.html?pagewanted=all

Yeah, congratulations. Really.

customartist
August 16th, 2012 | LINK

This is the Best News I have heard all Year!

I would like to go and dig up Jerry Falwell if only to see his expression.

Spread the news folks.

Blake
August 16th, 2012 | LINK

She also made several phone calls to law enforcement to instruct them that they should not look for Lisa and Isabella.

Who does that but a privileged white lady? What arrogance.

Steve
August 16th, 2012 | LINK

The best part of the complaint is this:

“Defendant Liberty University School of Law is a purported educational institution”

Blake
August 17th, 2012 | LINK

Allow me to clarify my previous comment.

Who calls the police and requests that they not do their job? It is difficult for me to empathize with such a person. I imagine that such a person is so shielded from reality via their own private echo chamber & their sense of moral certainty that they think such an action is appropriate. But really I cannot imagine any reason someone would think it is appropriate to call up anyone and tell them not to do their job.

While my first instinct would be to compare her to people I’ve known personally and then find blame in common attributes, if I’m honest, take my time and think about it critically, neither race nor class have much to do with such actions.

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