Virginia man gets three-year prison term in same-sex custody case
Courts | Philip Zodhiates is the third person punished for helping Lisa Miller flee the country
by Leigh Jones
Posted 3/22/17, 05:35 pm
Mennonite businessman Philip Zodhiates, convicted in September of helping a woman flee the country to avoid giving custody of her daughter to her former lesbian partner, will serve three years in prison for his role in the case.
Zodhiates drove Lisa Miller and her 7-year-old daughter Isabella across the Canadian border in 2009 so they could fly to Nicaragua. They have remained in hiding since then.
During his trial, Zodhiates denied helping Miller because he wanted to keep her former partner away from Isabella, a claim he reiterated at today’s sentencing hearing: “In truth, I was not at all motivated by Lisa Miller’s and Janet Jenkins’ lifestyle. That’s their choice and it’s not my role to change that.”
Prosecutors scoffed at that assertion.
“This is not a case about helping someone,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Van de Graaf. “He chose sides in a fight. And when you choose sides in a fight, you chose to hurt one side.”
Zodhiates is the third person sentenced in the Miller case. Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller was convicted in 2012 and began serving a 27-month sentence in March 2016. Another Mennonite pastor, Timothy Miller, was arrested in Nicaragua in early 2016, pleaded guilty, and is serving 12-18 months in prison.
Neither pastor is related to Lisa Miller, who decided to flee the country because she feared a family court judge would transfer custody of Isabella to her former partner Janet Jenkins, which the judge eventually did. Jenkins and Miller entered a civil union in Vermont in 2000, and Miller conceived Isabella in 2002 by artificial insemination. The couple split in 2004, and Miller moved to Virginia and became a Christian.
Wanting to keep her daughter from Jenkins’ influence, Miller reached out to a local Mennonite community for help. After arriving in Nicaragua, they are believed to have hid among Mennonites there.
Now that the criminal cases are complete, a judge in Virginia has lifted an order suspending a civil suit filed by Jenkins against attorneys Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen of Liberty Counsel, who once represented Miller. The suit also names Liberty University, where Staver and Lindevaldsen taught, as complicit in Miller’s flight. Jenkins is represented by an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.