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Posts for August, 2012

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.

Liberty Counsel, Liberty University Extensively Entangled In Kidnapping Case

Jim Burroway

April 23rd, 2011

The FBI’s criminal complaint has shown a bright spotlight on the deep involvement of Liberty Counsel and others associated with the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in the Miller-Jenkins kidnapping case. Yesterday, Timothy provided an overview, but if you haven’t read it in detail, please do so. It’s very fascinating.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, who had entered a Vermont civil union in 2000, split up in 2003 when their daughter, Isabella, was a year old. Miller moved to Virginia, became an evangelical Christian and entered the ex-gay movement. She was initially granted custody, with Jenkins awarded visitation rights. When Miller refused to allow Jenkins to visit their daughter, the court awarded custody to Jenkins. Miller then went into hiding and failed to appear at a court-ordered custody exchange on January 1, 2010.

The FBI complaint shows Lisa Miller’s itinerary from Toronto to Nicaragua in September 2009, a full month beforeVermont court ordered Miller to turn the young girl over to Janet Miller Jenkins. This flight was also nearly three months before it was suspected that Miller had kidnapped the couple’s daughter in violation of the court order. The affidavit also provides evidence tying Timothy David Miler to the kidnapping conspiracy. It appears that Timothy Miller was in either Managua or Waslala, Nicaragua, where he hosted the fugitive and kidnapped child for a time. Timothy Miller, who heads a Mennonite church in Managua, was arrested yesterday morning in Alexandria, Virginia.

Page 9 of the complaint shows that at least part of the airline tickets were “approved by Timothy” and the cardholder was Elaine R. Cooper, of Brethren, Michigan. Cooper is the adoptive mother of Timothy Miller’s wife. They made travel arrangements through a Christian travel agency, Golden Rule Travel. The agent who made the arrangements was Linda Rose Miller. Lots of Millers in the mix, although the FBI’s affidavit notes that no biological relationship has been established between the travel agent and Lisa Miller, or between Lisa Miller and Timothy Miller.

But here is where the web gets interesting. On Page 15 of the complaint, Philip Zodhiates, a wealthy “Liberty Leader,” owns a beach house in Nicaragua where Lisa and Isabella had been staying. He had requested that his daughter, Victoria Hyden, “disseminate a request to get Lisa Miller supplies.”

And who is Victoria Hyden?

She’s an administrative assistant for Liberty University’s School of Law’s financial aid department.

To complete the web further, Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, is also the dean of Liberty’s School of Law. Lisa Miller’s lawyer, Rena Lindevaldsen, Miller’s attorney at Liberty Counsel, is also an Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University.

A lot of fingers are pointing to Liberty Counsel and Liberty University: a wealthy benefactor who just happens to own property in Central America, and his daughter who happens to be a secretary at Liberty University. Gee, what are the odds that Miller would have found such generosity without the help of a certain associate professor or college dean?

And speaking of odds, we should note that there is evidence that the web is not limited to the collection of Millers, Liberty Counsel or Liberty University. There’s still the matter of Lynchburg-based ex-gay leader Debbie Thurman. (Lynchburg, of course, is the home of Liberty Counsel and Liberty University). Two months after the Miller fled the country but before it was confirmed that she was in hiding, Thurmam endorsed Lisa Miller’s kidnapping of Isabella in violation of a court order, and she magically became the source of an extensive note from Lisa Miller on December 4 — more than two months after Miller fled the country. As Timothy and I have both noted with some impatience, Thurman still has not explained how she came into possession of that communication.

Undoubtedly, the FBI’s investigation is continuing.

UPDATE: 4/27/11

Debbie Thurman has provided us with the following response:

Do you think this has not been looked into by “the authorities”? It has.
They are the only ones who needed to hear from me on it. It was properly
dismissed last year as insignificant.

Virginia court orders Lisa Miller to turn over Isabella

Timothy Kincaid

January 7th, 2010
Isabella Miller-Jenkins and Lisa Miller. Both are reported missing.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins and Lisa Miller. Both are reported missing.

One of the arguments of those supporting Lisa Miller in her effort to hide Isabella Miller-Jenkins is that the order to turn Isabella over to her mother, Janet Jenkins, is issued in Vermont and not enforceable in Virginia. That argument may no longer be valid (Lynchburg News and Advance):

A court order filed Monday in Bedford County requires that a 7-year-old girl at the center of a custody battle involving a Forest woman be surrendered to the woman’s former lesbian partner in Vermont.

Rebecca Glenburg, the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union attorney for Janet Jenkins, confirmed that the Bedford Juvenile and Domestic Relations court filed the order. She said it ensures that the Vermont court order requiring Lisa Miller to surrender the couple’s daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, is enforceable in Virginia.

A report from WSLS raises another interesting issue in relation to timing:

Miller’s last known address is a rental property in Forest. The sheriff’s office says neighbors haven’t seen the mother and daughter since September.

If Miller has been in hiding since September, then it is even more peculiar that Debbie Thurman was relaying commentary from her as recent as December 4th. It does make Thurman’s protestations of ignorance less credible and raises the question as to whether Miller was assisted by persons who abetted her absconding with Isabella but who chose not to have the exact details so as to retain a level of deniability.

Were I the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department, I would start questioning with Thurman and others at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University with whom Miller has had close contact, including those with whom she may have resided in the past.

UPDATE: 4/27/11

Debbie Thurman has provided us with the following response:

Do you think this has not been looked into by “the authorities”? It has.
They are the only ones who needed to hear from me on it. It was properly
dismissed last year as insignificant.

Debbie Thurman: the source of Lisa’s last communication

Timothy Kincaid

January 2nd, 2010

The extent to which Debbie Thurman was involved in the effort to deny Janet Jenkins her legal parental rights is more extensive than might have been guessed. Thurman has often portrayed herself as someone who knows Lisa Miller but who is objective. But the further into the story we get, the more Debbie’s hand is seen.

We knew that she was the spokesperson for the Protect Isabella site and now it appears that she is the administrator of the Facebook page entitled as “Only One Mommy: The Story of Lisa and Isabella Miller“. After having shut down her own website and that of the Formers, Debbie has reported a technical glitch is making it difficult to shut down discussion on that page as well.

It is difficult to determine Debbie’s intentions, but it seems that she is in the process of eliminating at least part of the public history of the discussion about Lisa’s efforts to deny Janet visitation – especially that which displays the words of Lisa’ supporters. I will not speculate on the reason why. Debbie may feel that the discussion is becoming confrontational and unneccessarily angry or maybe she’s embarrassed by the unbridled hatred that some of Lisa’s supporters are spewing.

Or maybe she has other purposes. I do not know.

But it does appear that Debbie – according to the Facebook page – may be the last person who publicly reported any contact with Lisa. The anti-gay LifeSiteNews reports

Miller’s last public communication was posted on her Facebook page December 4 by a supporter.

This supporter was, not suprisingly, Debbie Thurman, who posted the following:

A Note from Lisa
I just wanted to thank all of you for your kind and encouraging words. Please know that I cherish your hopefulness, Bible verses/stories and words of praise for our God that you share with me via this forum. I also want to let you know that due to saving money I am no…t renewing my internet services. However, I will check FB periodically because when I do get on I am immediately encouraged by your faithfulness to our God by how you continue to praise Him –even through this “dark” ruling. Thank You. Please do continue to praise God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is work within us, to him be the glory” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Remember, “He will do only as much for us as we allow Him to do in us” (The Alliance). This reminds me of the widow’s oil and Nahum washing in the river- if they did not believe 100% then they would not have been the recipient of our Father’s miracles. Furthermore, also please remember that the widow would have received as much oil as the number of her containers- in other words, more faith- more oil. I have been in prayer and Bible study over the matter of late and I believe that God is not finished. God is the God of the impossible: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). “Therefore, may we continue to persevere, for even if we took our circumstances and cast all darkness of human doubt upon them and then hastily piled as many difficulties together as we could find against God’s divine word, we could never move beyond the blessedness of His miracle – working power. May we place our faith completely in Him, for He is the God of the impossible” (Streams in the Desert). Are we not here in my legal case? I choose to wait patiently on Him (Daniel 12:12) and continue to stand on His promise (for both Isabella and me) that “no weapon formed against thee shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17). Let us continue to go forward in faith as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Daniel, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and others who went forward (Hebrews 11). “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Thank you again friends in Christ for “standing in the gap for Isabella and me.” “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority. And my people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?” (Jeremiah 5:31)

It is quite possible that Debbie Thurman is not the last person with public knowledge about Lisa’s whereabouts. It would not be surprising if Lias had communication with her legal counsel after she and Debbie arranged for this message to be posted.

It is early in this investigation and many more sources may become available. But at least the police do have a starting spot if they choose to vigorously pursue this parental abduction.

UPDATE: 4/27/11

Debbie Thurman has provided us with the following response:

Do you think this has not been looked into by “the authorities”? It has.
They are the only ones who needed to hear from me on it. It was properly
dismissed last year as insignificant.

Debbie Thurman endorses Lisa Miller’s kidnapping of Isabella

Timothy Kincaid

December 30th, 2009

Debbie ThurmanDebbie Thurman is the facilitator of an ex-gay ministry in Lynchburg, VA, called The Formers. She is also a regular participant at Dr. Throckmorton’s site and an infrequent commenter here at Box Turtle Bulletin.

It was, I suppose, inevitable that Thurman would become interested in Lisa Miller, the woman who is seeking to keep Janet Jenkins, her former partner, from having contact with their child. Thurman’s anti-gay political attitudes, along with their mutual attendance at Thomas Road Baptist Church (the church Jerry Falwell founded), surely drew them together.

And, indeed, Thurman is an avid advocate for Lisa Miller. Although she pretends some distance and objectivity in some of her comments, it is not coincidence that the “Protect Isabella” website is registered at her business address and that she was their contact person (the site is rife with homophobic smear and insinuation).

Debbie likes to see herself as a civil person, one who follows the example of Andrew Marin, who has made it his mission to build a bridge between the religious and LGBT communities. But, unlike Marin who believes that love should be an expression of behavior of Christians towards gay people, Thurman seems to think that adopting a sheen of momentary civility while at a gay website is effort enough.

Let me be fair. Debbie’s recent conversion to civility is not without some measurability. She was quick to join in opposition to the Ugandan effort to enact the draconian Kill Gays bill. But she is so immersed in a culture of animus towards gay people that she is also quick to believe the worst about gay people, no matter how bizarre or comical.

And she seems incapable of seeing gay people as equal to herself or, indeed, much other than an enemy to conquer and vanquish. Convinced that a battle is waging between homosexuality and God, she appears incapable of disengaging from her Culture War.

And it is through that prism that Debbie Thurman sees the custody battle between Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins over their daughter Isabelle. Let’s look at how she discusses Miller’s refusal to conform with the visitation and custody ordered by a judge and upheld by the Supreme Courts of Virgina and Vermont and the United States Supreme Court.

Responding to Miller’s disappearance with Isabella, Thurman wrote an article titled “This is True Motherhood”, in which she endorses Lisa Miller’s apparent kidnapping of Isabella and compares her to the nation’s founding fathers.

I cannot answer the burning question on everyone’s lips: Where are Lisa and Isabella? Somewhere safe, I pray. How and when did they get there? Only God knows.

What happens now? A lot of frustration, recrimination and more lies on one side and a collective sigh of relief on the other. The courts still have a huge task set before them, meanwhile. Lisa and Isabella represent only one of many similar cases waiting to be resolved. We need precedents that honor the prevailing states’ rights, laws and constitutions. The majority of Americans overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. If the tyrannical minority wants to push against that, it can and will be met with civil disobedience. There is no other way.

Lisa Miller is a mother who would give up her life to save her child. Of that there is no doubt. She apparently has chosen to forfeit a large measure of her liberty, personal property and pursuit of happiness in assuring that child her God-ordained future, much as a group of patriots pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor more than two centuries ago to establish this nation.

I say God bless and long live Lisa and Isabella Miller. All who have known them are the better for it. [emphasis added]

If, as Andrew Marin says, love is “a measurable expression of one’s unconditional behaviors towards another”, then we can use this measure to see if there is any love in Debbie Thurman.

Kidnapping a child so as to spite a former partner, using religion as an excuse for one’s own selfish desires, and taking advantage of local bigotries to elicit sympathy are not admirable traits. But, in the passion of parental ownership and the emotions of failed relationships, these are not unheard of or unfathomable.

But endorsing kidnap as a tactic in a Culture War, that’s just plain evil.

(hat tip Truth Wins Out)