A Brazilian couple’s flight had just landed at Miami International Airport earlier this year when an unpleasant surprise greeted them.
FBI agents arrested Brazilian businessman Carlos Otavio Guimaraes, 67, and his wife, Jemima Guimaraes, 65, in the early morning hours on Feb. 7, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. The couple had flown into Miami en route to Houston for a vacation when they were arrested, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Neither of the Guimaraeses realized it before their arrest, but the pair (as well as their 39-year-old daughter, Marcelle Guimaraes, who was still in Brazil) faced federal charges in the U.S. for allegedly helping their daughter kidnap their grandson.
After their Florida arrest, Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes made it to Houston after all — but not for vacation. The Guimaraes were transferred to Texas for trial because Houston is where the couple’s grandson, 8-year-old Nico Brann, lived before his mother took him to Brazil in 2013 and never returned, according to prosecutors. Previously, the boy’s mother and father had joint custody.
That launched a bitter, years-long international custody battle that resulted in a conviction in federal court on Friday. Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes were found guilty of international kidnapping, KTRK reports. But on the conspiracy charge they faced, the pair was found not guilty. The couple is to remain at their home until their sentencing, a judge said, adding that he's waiting to formally accept the jury’s decision until he can consider objections the defense raised.
“I think my team and I are crushed,” Rusty Hardin, the defense attorney for the grandparents, told KTRK. “We’re tremendously surprised and disappointed. The fact is, these people were supporting their daughter, evidence doesn't contradict that she was the victim of domestic violence and that's the defense.”
Marcelle Guimaraes had married Dr. Christopher Brann, a doctor at Baylor College of Medicine, in Texas in 2008. A year later, she gave birth to their son, Nicolas Brann, or Nico for short. In 2012, though, Guimaraes filed for a divorce from Brann, according to a criminal complaint. Defense attorneys for the grandparents said Brann had been abusive in the marriage, KHOU reports.
Then, in 2013, both parents signed an agreement allowing the mother to take Nico to Brazil to attend a wedding, as long as she returned by July 20, court records said.
But July 20 came and went, and neither mother nor son returned to Texas, court records said. On July 27, Brann learned that Marcelle Guimaraes was “too sick to travel and was undergoing tests,” court records said. Two days later, Carlos Guimaraes wrote to Brann telling him that the family was still waiting for the test results to come back before sending Nico home to Texas, according to the complaint.
Finally, on July 31, Carlos Guimaraes told Brann to expect Nico to land in the U.S. on an August 4 flight, according to court records. When the day arrived, though, Marcelle’s attorney reached out to Brann’s attorney with unexpected news: Marcelle and Nico would be remaining in Brazil — permanently, Carlos Guimaraes had told the attorney.
Documents filed in Brazilian court indicate that Marcelle Guimaraes “premeditated Nicolas Brann’s abduction,” according to U.S. court records: In April 2013, before the flight to Brazil even took off, the boy had been enrolled in a Brazilian school run by Jemima Guimaraes for the coming year, court records said. And by May, the mother had secured a job at the school that was set to begin in July, according to the criminal complaint.
The Guimaraes were working to get sole custody of Nico in Brazilian courts as early as July 10 — six days after landing in the country — and those efforts continued as the family told Brann Marcelle was ill and that Nico would be back August 4.
In a September 2013 email, Marcelle Guimaraes wrote to Brann that Brazil offered “better conditions to raise our son.”
“I am willing to talk about visitation,” she wrote. “Again, my wish is that we can get into an agreement soon, so that we can all move on with our lives.”
Years later, Guimaraes has remained in Brazil and Brann hasn't seen his son. Meanwhile, Texas courts found Marcelle Guimaraes liable in 2015 of hiding Nico’s whereabouts and violating Brann’s parental rights, records said.
"All I have ever wanted is for Nico to have equal access to his two loving parents,” Brann said in a statement after the verdict, KHOU reports. “Yet the Guimaraeses not only premeditated his abduction to Brazil but have for years done everything possible to both cut me off from Nico and poison his relationship with me. Despite all the cruelty they have heaped on my extraordinary son Nico by obstructing his relationship with me, Nico remains my sole concern.”
Brann added that if his ex-wife were to return to Texas with their son, he would “happily appear at the Guimaraes' sentencing hearing to advocate maximum leniency.”