A Broward County woman is facing federal prison time after pleading guilty to international parental kidnapping, admitting she abducted her 10-year-old daughter and took her to the Dominican Republic, where they hid out for more than a year.
Darline Souffrant, 35, formerly of Miramar, Hallandale Beach and Miami-Dade County, confessed she violated a Broward Circuit Court custody order by taking Khaniya Roberts out of the country in December 2011 and keeping the child from her father.
Five months after a Broward judge awarded primary custody to the father, Khary Roberts, of Miami, and ordered the mother to pay $570 a month in child support, Souffrant snatched the child and took off.
Souffrant, a Haitian citizen who lived in Florida for years, picked up her daughter from an after-school care program in Miami on Dec. 2, 2011. The next day, they took a flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A few days later, they crossed into the Dominican Republic, where they lived in the Santo Domingo area, according to public records and authorities there. Khaniya attended school but her mother only allowed her to speak with her father, by phone, two times that year. The mother told agents she planned to keep the girl from her dad for at least two years.
FBI agents, with Interpol and law enforcement in the Dominican Republic, tracked Souffrant and the little girl down on Dec. 20, 2012. The girl was reunited with her father, who she now lives with in the Miami area, and authorities in the Dominican Republic deported Souffrant to the U.S. in the agents' custody.
Federal prosecutions for international parental kidnappings are rare in South Florida. Since 1996, the U.S. Attorney's Office has charged only 10 people with the crime in the district, which runs from Fort Pierce to Key West.
No family members attended Souffrant's guilty plea hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday and attempts to reach the child's father for comment were unsuccessful.
Souffrant sobbed and said she wanted to explain her motives to the judge. Her lawyer comforted her and told her she could explain herself at sentencing.
"I just wanted to protect my daughter," Souffrant was overheard telling Assistant Federal Public Defender Tim Day.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert T. Watson said the maximum punishment for the offense is three years in prison when Souffrant is sentenced in April. Souffrant has been jailed since her arrest and may be deported when she's served her time.
In a handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum, Souffrant wrote: "I have single-handedly raised my daughter for over ten years and after approaching her father for child support, a war began."
She asked the judge to let her return to the Dominican Republic.
"My daughter was not endangered in any way,"she wrote. She said she was concerned about her 4-year-old daughter, Cayenn, who was left with a neighbor in the Dominican Republic.
Souffrant blamed the kidnap plot on stress brought on by the child support and custody dispute.
Souffrant said she suffered a stroke at 34 during the battle.
"I do not diminish my reckless actions ... however, my health was failing and the threat of losing Khaniya was real and I decided to flee," Souffrant wrote.
In the custody case, a state judge ruled in the summer of 2011 that Souffrant failed to provide stability for the child, isolating her from her father, uprooting her and moving her in the middle of the school year from Orlando to Hallandale Beach. In a court order, a general magistrate wrote she was "disturbed" by Souffrant's actions and recommended the parents share custody of the child, with the father having primary custody.
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