LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A woman who sparked a high-profile international custody fight when she took her two U.S.-born children to her native Slovakia and failed to return on time returned to the United States on Thursday to face criminal charges, the FBI said.
Maria Pfeifer, 32, is accused of taking her two young sons, then aged nine and three, to the Czech Republic and Slovakia in June 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman Bill Lewis said.
Pfeifer was returned to the U.S. on Thursday afternoon, the FBI said in a statement. She was escorted by FBI agents and was turned over to detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department upon arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.
After she failed to come back earlier, she was found by court-ordered custody terms in Los Angeles to be in violation of the parental rights of the two fathers.
“She cut off, went dark on her phones, went dark on email,” Bob Pfeifer, the father of the 9-year-old, told ABC’s “20/20” in February.
A State Department official told “20/20” this year that they see up to 800 such cases of international parental child abductions each year.
Reported cases of international child abduction in the United States declined by more than 23 percent collectively during fiscal years 2011 and 2012, according to the U.S. State Department.
Pfeifer spent months meeting with Los Angeles police and the district attorney, before setting up a Facebook page that quickly spread his story. Following a lead that the boys and mother may have been in Paris, Pfeifer went there and met FBI special agent Eugene Casey at the U.S. embassy.
Last August, Los Angeles police detectives obtained an arrest warrant charging Maria Pfeifer with two felony counts of child detention with right to custody, the FBI said. The following month she was further charged in a federal criminal complaint with Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution.
The court granted the victims’ fathers full custody of their children while Pfeifer was a fugitive, the FBI said.
In December, Maria Pfeifer was arrested at the FBI’s request by French law enforcement officers and the children were reunited with their fathers and returned to the United States.
Pfeifer will be prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Editing by Robert Birsel