- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

NEW CASTLE, DEL. (AP) - A former Newark optometrist accused of abducting his three daughters apparently planned well in advance to flee the country with them, according to state and federal investigators.

David Matusiewicz, 41, who was arrested in Nicaragua last week, was scheduled for an initial court appearance Monday in Miami on federal bank fraud and mortgage fraud charges stemming from alleged attempts to squirrel away cash before fleeing to Central America with his daughters.

Matusiewicz and his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, also face felony charges in Delaware of interference with custody. It was unclear if the two have hired attorneys to represent them.

According to investigators, the two fled the country with Matusiewicz’s three young daughters after he told his ex-wife, Christine Belford, with whom he shared custody, in August 2007 that he was taking them to Disney World for two weeks.

“He never went to Disney World,” U.S. Marshal David Thomas said after a news conference Monday.

Instead, according to investigators, Matusiewicz carried out a well planned abduction scheme that included wiring more than $500,000 to overseas banks, obtaining a false Canadian passport, and stuffing his escape vehicle, a 33-foot motor home that had been purchased by his mother, so full of food, diapers and other personal items that the tires needed to be repaired just days before he took his family south.

Matusiewicz also had raised huge sums of cash by selling his optometry business, forging his ex-wife’s name on a home equity loan application of almost $250,000, and selling investments, according to investigators.

“We believe he had at least a million dollars in cash,” Thomas said.

Authorities were unable to provide details on Matusiewicz’s travels but said he had visited Panama a couple of months before fleeing there with daughters Laura, 6, Leigh 5, and Karen, 3. Investigators said they discovered in April that he traveled from Panama to Costa Rica, and then to Nicaragua, which he allegedly entered illegally with the fake Canadian passport.

Matusiewicz was arrested last week as he dropped off his eldest daughter at a school in Nicaragua.

Ed Moreno, assistant director for the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic security branch, said Matusiewicz was “shell-shocked” when agents caught up with him. His mother and two other daughters were found later in the motor home, which had been parked on a barren tract of land.

Authorities said Monday that the girls have been reunited with their mother, who was awarded sole custody by a Family Court judge after her ex-husband disappeared.

Acting U.S. Attorney David Weiss said federal prosecutors will consult with the Delaware attorney general’s office before deciding whether Matusiewicz will face a federal parental kidnapping charge.

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