By CARA RUBINSKY | The Associated Press
A Waterbury jury awarded $27 million Thursday to a Massachusetts mother who received help from Cuban President Fidel Castro to recover her abducted children after a bitter custody dispute.
Nina Streeter of Topsfield, Mass., sued Cincinnati-based Executive Jet Management after the company was paid $160,000 to arrange a charter flight in 2001 for Streeter’s ex-husband, Anwar Wissa Jr., and the children. Wissa took the children to Egypt and Cuba before the children were returned to Streeter nearly two years later.
The lawsuit accused the company of failing to maintain adequate safeguards against abductions, such as asking both parents to sign consent forms before flying children out of the country.
The case was handled in Connecticut because the flight left from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
Ginnell Schiller, a spokeswoman for Executive Jet Management, said the company will appeal. She declined to comment on specific allegations in the lawsuit.
“Executive Jet Management complies fully with all government laws and regulations and operates under the identical applicable protocol as the major air carriers,” Schiller said, reading from a statement. “We have great respect for our judicial system and know that this matter will be satisfactorily resolved on appeal.”
The jury award included $10 million against the company for negligence and aiding custodial interference and $17 million for the 22 months Streeter spent apart from her children.
Streeter’s attorney, Barry Pollack, said his client was home with her children, now ages 9 and 10, when the jury’s verdict came back Thursday afternoon. The six-person jury had started deliberating Wednesday afternoon.
“She was certainly thrilled with the result and hopes that it sends a message to the private charter industry,” Pollack said.
The suit also named Wissa, but that case is being handled separately.
Streeter and Wissa divorced in 2001 and became entangled in a custody battle when Wissa took the two children and fled to Egypt in August 2001. He later demanded millions of dollars from Streeter in exchange for the children’s safe return, according to court documents.
Streeter hired a private investigator and learned the children were living with their father on a yacht in Havana. She asked former Mexican president Carlos Salinas for help, and he asked Castro to intervene.
Cuban authorities arrested Wissa and returned the children to Streeter in June 2003.
Pollack said he’s not sure where Wissa is now, but believes he may be in Egypt.