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Businessman at Center of Lesbian Custody Case Charged With International Kidnapping

A prominent Christian direct-mail guru with former ties to an anti-Semitic publication now faces federal charges for his alleged role assisting a woman flee the United States with her biological daughter after losing custody of the child to a former lesbian partner.

Philip Zodhiates, whose direct-mail business, Response Unlimited, targets conservatives and Christians, is scheduled to voluntarily appear for arraignment next Wednesday in Buffalo, N.Y. A grand jury there returned a two-count indictment on Sept. 19 charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States and international parental kidnapping.

Lisa Miller, who became in international fugitive after fleeing the U.S. in 2009 with her daughter, is also charged in the indictment, along with Timothy David Miller, 37, a Crossville, Tenn., pastor. The current whereabouts of Lisa Miller and her daughter, who is now 12, are unknown.

Timothy Miller initially was charged with international kidnapping in May 2011 in Vermont, but Justice Department prosecutors dismissed the charges five months later after his attorneys challenged the admissibility of statements he made when arrested.

Matt LaPorta, a spokesman for Zodhiates, told Hatewatch today that Zodhiates would have no comment and referred queries to Robert Hemley, a Burlington, Vt., attorney who also declined comment.

The New York indictment is the latest development in a complex case that has received wide-spread attention because it focuses on the rights of non-biological parents in same-sex unions, while becoming a lightning rod for conservative Christians who condemn homosexuality.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Two years later, Miller was artificially inseminated and gave birth to her daughter, Isabella. Sometime later, Miller renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Baptist, refusing child-visitation rights to her former partner because of her “homosexual lifestyle.” When Miller subsequently lost custody of her daughter for refusing visitation, she fled the country and became a heroine of conservative Christians, who started a “Protect Isabella” movement to build support for the case.

The indictment alleges that Zodhiates played a key role in Miller’s flight from justice. Public documents filed in a companion case say that Miller and her daughter fled to Canada, then to Nicaragua where they lived in a beach house owned by Zodhiates.

The indictment says on Sept. 21, 2009, Miller and her daughter travelled from Virginia to Buffalo, N.Y., with Zodhiates. That same day, it alleges, the businessman had telephone contact with Kenneth L. Miller, a Virginia pastor who was convicted in 2012 for aiding and abetting in parental kidnapping. Zodhiates also is accused of having telephone contact with someone in Canada, who’s not publicly identified, who assisted with Lisa Miller’s flight. She also is alleged to have received support and refuge in Nicaragua from missionaries from Kenneth Miller’s Amish-Mennonite sect. (Lisa, Kenneth and Timothy Miller apparently are not related).

In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center disclosed that Zodhiates' company had sold its mailing lists of conservative Christians to The Spotlight, an anti-Semitic newspaper founded by Willis Carto and later to the American Free Press. Other purchasers of Response Unlimited’s lists included the Republican Governors Association, the National Right to Work Foundation and the Washington Times.

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