NJ Dad Fights for Stolen Son
New York Post
February 15, 2009
It took nearly five years, but New Jersey resident David Goldman has finally hugged his son again.
Until last weekend Goldman – engaged in a bitter custody battle with Brazilian courts – hadn’t seen his son Sean since 2004, when the toddler left on what should have been a vacation with his Brazilian mom and her parents.
The chubby, happy-go-lucky 4-year-old Goldman waved goodbye to in Newark Airport is now a lanky 8-year-old as fluent in Portuguese as he is English, and more accustomed to the white sandy beaches of Rio than the grassy New Jersey riverbank in Tinton Falls where he used to live.
But it only took an instant for father and son to reconnect when they finally saw each other again last weekend in Rio de Janeiro.
“I gave him a big hug and a squeeze, and I told him how much I loved and missed him. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, but he embraced it,” Goldman recounted. “I didn’t know what to expect – I expected the worst, from everything I had been through with these people.”
The two played basketball together in the backyard of Sean’s grandparent’s house, and later took a swim in the pool. At one point, Goldman said, Sean asked him where he had been for the past four years.
“His face was so torn and painful, it was very hurtful,” said Goldman. “I told him I’d been here many, many times, sometimes as long as two weeks, trying to see you, and I couldn’t. The courts were making things difficult. He didn’t like that answer. You could see it was painful for him.”
Goldman, a former male model who once had a flashy career posing alongside 90s icons like Kathy Ireland and Claudia Schieffer, never thought his lucky life would take such a wretched turn.
Discovered by a modeling scout while lifeguarding on the Jersey Shore, Goldman’s early 20s were a whirlwind spent traveling the globe. By the time he landed in Milan in 1997, he was ready to settle down – and he thought he found the girl of his dreams living in the apartment right next door.
Her name was Bruna Bianchi, part of a wealthy Brazilian family, and she was in Milan getting her masters in fashion design. Petite, wide-eyed and bubbly, Bruna captured Goldman’s heart, and – he thought – the two fell deeply in love. They married, moved to New Jersey, and had Sean in May 2000. Family photos show a handsome, smiling couple, seemingly content in their cozy Jersey home with a tree-filled backyard.
But Bruna was harboring a secret. She wasn’t happy being an American wife. She wanted out of the marriage – and she was plotting to take Sean with her.
In 2004, Bruna told Goldman she wanted to go on a vacation to Brazil with Sean. Goldman, busy working, was to join them two weeks later, he says.
He never suspected it would take nearly five years – and cost him everything he had, more than $350,000 – before he could embrace his child again.
As soon as Bruna arrived in Rio, she called Goldman to tell him the marriage was over – and she was keeping Sean.
“We can together do this thing friendly, but, if you are no gonna come here, the thing is gonna change,” Bruna told her husband over the phone. Goldman taped their conversations after he realized she wanted him to fly to Brazil and sign over his parental rights to Sean.
Supported by her wealthy parents, Bruna enrolled Sean in a Rio school and opened an upscale boutique on Ipanema beach.
Goldman, backed by a team of lawyers in the US and Brazil, filed an international child custody suit. Despite Bruna’s repeated demands, he initially refused to go to Brazil on the advice of his lawyers, who said the proper venue for the custody hearing should be the US, where Sean was born.
After more than a year of delays, the Brazilian courts finally acknowledged that Bruna had violated international law by taking Sean. But Goldman’s hopes were dashed when the courts decided that Sean, now settled in Brazil, shouldn’t be uprooted and taken from his mother.
Even after Bruna – who remarried in Brazil despite never obtaining an American divorce – tragically died in childbirth last August, Goldman has been unable to regain custody of his son.
The man Bruna married, Joao Paolo Lins e Silva, belongs to a politically well-connected family, with an uncle who once held a high government position. The family runs a successful law firm in Rio, specializing in international child custody law – and the name is well-known among Brazilian magistrates and justices.
Before she died, Bruna even managed to get a Brazilian birth certificate issued for the American-born Sean, Goldman says – and made sure Goldman’s name wasn’t on it. The Lins e Silva family maintains it has done nothing wrong in keeping Sean and has been following court orders-even though the family once refused to present Sean for an earlier court-ordered visit with his father.
The custody case has now pierced the highest levels of Washington, DC.
“I know that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is aware of this case,” a State Department official told The Post. “She is interested in hearing the developments and wants to know how things are going.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has crafted a resolution to try and help Goldman’s case, which has now been moved to Brazil’s federal courts.
Smith is also reaching out to the White House ahead of a March visit to the US from Brazil’s president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
“I plan every day to raise this issue unless it’s resolved before Lula arrives,” said Smith. “It’s a political and diplomatic issue. This is a kidnapping, but we know where Sean is. He’s living with a man who is not his father and has no blood relation to him.”
Copyright © 2009 The New York Post