The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 10, 2013

US couple in jail after fleeing to Cuba with kids



MIAMI (AP) — A Florida couple accused of kidnapping their two young sons and fleeing by boat to Cuba were handed over to the United States and imprisoned and their children were returned to their maternal grandparents, who have official custody, authorities said Wednesday.

Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, were being held at the Hillsborough County Jail on a number of charges including kidnapping, child neglect and interference with custody, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said on its website.

The couple are expected to make their first appearance Thursday in Hillsborough County Court, the sheriff's office said in a statement. It was not immediately known if either of the Hakkens has an attorney. The couple will not face federal charges, said David Couvertier, a spokesman for the FBI in Tampa.

U.S. authorities say Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa, Florida. The boys' grandparents were granted permanent custody of the boys last week.

"Our grandchildren are safe," the grandfather, Bob Hauser, told a news conference with the sheriff's office late Tuesday. "We had an opportunity to talk with them before they left Cuba."

Bob and his wife, Patricia Hauser, asked the news media to give them at least 24 hours alone with the boys, the sheriff's department said in a statement. They planned to make a public statement possibly by Thursday.

Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence Sunday, and from that moment "diplomatic contact has been exchanged and a professional and constant communication has been maintained," Cuban Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada said in a statement.

An AP reporter spotted the couple and the children beside their boat at the Hemingway Marina in Havana on Tuesday. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Michael Hakken yelled out "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.

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