Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Fugitive mom nabbed at airport

New York woman accused of abducting son found with her

Dan Rowe
Vancouver Sun

Stephen Schmitt, The Journal News / Clare Hiler, 13, plays with her cousin Tristram Kelly, 2, who was being housed by his aunt Tracy Kelly in their Mamaroneck home in Westchester County, N.Y.
Missing and Exploited Children Web site shows Jing Kelly, accused of abducting her son.

A New York state woman accused of abducting her son is awaiting extradition hearings in the Lower Mainland after she was identified by Canada Customs officials on a flight from Hong Kong using an international passenger information system installed to enhance security at Vancouver International Airport.

The Advance Passenger Information (API), an Interpol-coordinated data system that cross-references flight manifests with a variety of law-enforcement databases, "flagged" the American passport of a passenger on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver last Friday morning.

That set in motion a hasty series of events involving law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border and opposite ends of the continent, leading to the arrest of Jing Kelly.

Kelly had been wanted by police in the town of Mamaroneck in Westchester County, N.Y. for 18 months. She is accused of absconding to China with her son, Tristram, now two and a half years old, who was on the flight with her.

David Hebert, the Westchester Country executive assistant district attorney, said that following the initial abduction, Kelly left the United States with fraudulently obtained passports for herself and her child.

Hebert didn't know what kind of passport Kelly had for her trip from Hong Kong to Vancouver, but it was the fraudulent passport the child was flying on that tipped off authorities.

"Whether she had, while she was abroad, applied for and received another passport, I can't answer that. But the child was flying with the fraudulently obtained American passport," Hebert said.

"Canadian authorities did an exceptional job in watching their travel manifests and identifying that her son's passport was flagged by Interpol."

Canadian officials became aware of this while the flight was already in the air and well on its way to Vancouver.

They had about two and a half hours to make the arrangements required for the RCMP to detain Kelly at Vancouver airport.

Roger McMeans, senior counsel with the federal department of justice in Vancouver, said the authorities needed an arrest warrant based on a provisional request for extradition.

"When a person is in or on their way to Canada and a situation is regarded as being effectively an emergency situation, you can bring on an application before a judge of the B.C. Supreme Court for a provisional arrest warrant."

To accomplish that, the Westchester County district attorney's office and Mamaroneck police had to send an affidavit to the RCMP. That had to be sworn by a local officer before the judge could issue the provisional arrest warrant.

Everything came together just as Kelly and her son were starting to make their way through immigration.

Warrant in hand, RCMP officers at the airport questioned Kelly and detained her.

"Without their adept identification of these passengers, she might well have slipped into this country and not been identified. Our kudos to Canadian authorities," Hebert said.

Tristram was held in foster care on Friday night. On Saturday, he was reunited with Gail Hiler, his paternal aunt and legal guardian, who flew to Vancouver as soon as she was notified of a potential arrest by local police. They returned to Westchester County on Sunday.

"But for the suffering of a little bit of jet lag, the child appeared to be in good condition. I believe him to be healthy and happy at this juncture," Hebert said.

After a lengthy struggle, Tristram's father, Craig Kelly, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney's office, had regained legal custody of his abducted child. He died of cancer this past October.

The Kellys began having marital problems soon after Tristram was born in May of 2000 and, in one incident, were both arrested.

Jing Kelly had been at large since June 20, 2001, when she met Hiler at a train station to pick up her child for a legally mandated three-hour visitation.

Mamaroneck police detectives say Kelly took a cab directly to a New York airport and boarded a flight to her native China. They believe she spent all of the past 18 months in Wuhan in the Hubei province where she grew up.

Authorities followed the case closely during this time and say there was no hint that Kelly ever intended to leave China. They speculate she may have been planning to come to Canada and negotiate with American authorities from here.

This is the second time the Advance Passenger Information system has led to a major break in Canada -- both times at Vancouver airport -- since the system was installed last fall.

In October of 2002, API data helped lead to the seizure of 16 kilograms of heroin.

Sharon Gill, a spokeswoman for Canada Customs in Vancouver, said the system is cutting-edge technology that is proving very useful.

"What more could you ask for than a child to be reunited with its family?"

Canada and the United States agreed to share the Advance Passenger Information program under the Smart Border Declaration of December 2001.

Kelly made her first appearance in B.C. Supreme Court Monday. She will appear again Thursday.

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