The Case from Hell (and Back)

Comprising more than four years of legal brawling, the Nogues case can stake undisputed claim as the most tortured child-abuse battle in Dade history. The affair stems from a 1989 allegation that Kendall physician Andres Nogues sexually abused his teenage stepdaughter, Aimee; following Aimee's accusation, child-protection workers removed the seven minor Nogues children from their home. Though Aimee took back her claims months later, a recantation supported by the findings of state-appointed experts and a lengthy police investigation, the kids remained in the foster care of their eldest sister until this past summer, when Juvenile Court Judge Ralph Person ordered that they be returned home to live with Andres and his wife Lisette, a neurologist.

This past week Person pleaded for an end to the war. "We need to have finality in matters," the judge implored at a February 1 hearing before denying two motions filed by the Nogues parents, who were attempting to clear their name. "We have to stop fighting. There comes a time when it's finished, and I believe we're at that time."

But even as Person spoke, Aimee Nogues was eagerly publicizing her latest -- and most dramatic -- reversal. At a press conference the day before, the nineteen-year-old told reporters that Andres had in fact sexually abused her, and that she had recanted and sabotaged the initial police investigation of her stepfather only because she felt guilty about breaking up the family. Then she dropped the bombshell: She possesses tape-recorded conversations that she insists prove the abuse took place.

Aimee says she recorded the exchanges during the first two weeks in January while Andres drove her on two separate errands. Aside from conversations between a man and a woman, the tapes also contain the voice of an infant, which Aimee claims is her own year-old daughter, a child born out of wedlock and guarded, until recently, as a family secret. Aimee concedes that the tapes, which she says were recorded on a microcassette recorder concealed in her purse, are of poor quality. But she maintains that her stepfather's voice is unmistakable.

The tapes begin with an awkward exchange about past sexual activities, the male voice begging to reinitiate carnal relations. At one point the man complains about the prospect of having sex in the car. "We can't do much in there," the male voice says. "I'm talking about a good-time fuck."

Aimee says that during a second conversation allegedly taped a few days later, her stepfather became more physical. Throughout the time this recording was being made, she says, he was touching her breasts and attempting to grope her elsewhere. "I can't wait to fuck you," the man's voice says at one point. "He also described in a very detailed way what he wanted to do with me sexually," Aimee recalls. "I had to tell him repeatedly to keep his hands off me." The female on the tape is also heard promising the man sexual favors in the future, on the condition that he fix her phone and TV set and financially subsidize a move into an apartment. "I said those things to get him to talk," she claims now.

Andres Nogues, a 35-year-old aspiring pediatrician who married Lisette Nogues fourteen years ago, fathered the three youngest Nogueses and adopted the other six. He categorically denies that he has ever had any sexual contact with his stepdaughter, regardless of what is alleged to have been captured on tape, and raises the possibility that the recordings might have been manipulated. "That's why I want the FBI to analyze these tapes," he says. He adds that neither he nor his wife has listened to the recordings, though Aimee did deliver them to the house a week ago. The couple is urging state prosecutors to bring charges against Aimee if it is determined that she taped Andres without his consent, in violation of Florida law.

"As much as I would like to defend myself, I have been told that I cannot discuss the tapes specifically, because I would forfeit my right to prosecute [Aimee]," Andres says. "If I was guilty, I would not ask to bring charges, because a prosecution will make the tapes public." Lisette Nogues says she believes her husband to be innocent. "If I had the slightest suspicion that this was true," she asserts, "that man would not be in my house. He'd be in jail."

A New Times reporter has listened to both tapes, the first of which lasts about eleven minutes and the second approximately an hour. The recorded voices sound like those of Aimee and Andres Nogues; the female voice repeatedly addresses the male as "Papi," while he calls her "Meme" (Aimee's nickname). Aimee also provided New Times with transcripts of the tapes, whose sound quality is poor.

Aimee, who returned home in June 1992 but had grown alienated from her parents in recent months, says she recorded Andres in the hope of convincing her mother that he did indeed abuse her. "I wanted her to realize what he had done and get him out of the house, away from my brothers and sisters," she says.

The plan went awry after her parents grew suspicious and confronted Aimee. The girl left home on January 14, and eventually moved in with her older sister, Michelle Porras, Lisette's estranged daughter who cared for the four youngest Nogueses from 1989 until their return home this past July. On that same day in mid-January Aimee visited Judge Person and entreated him to intercede in the case. She says Person wanted to listen to the tapes first, but Michelle already had turned them over to a private investigator to have their sound quality enhanced. (Judge Person did not make any mention of the tapes at the February 1 hearing.) Within a week the tapes had made their way to the Dade State Attorney's Office.

Local prosecutors, who had declared a conflict of interest in the Nogues case three years ago, forwarded the tapes to Rick Mackelwaine, an investigator with the State Attorney's Office in Fort Pierce. Mackelwaine, who is looking into alleged criminal conduct by more than a dozen child-protection workers involved with the Nogues case, sent them back to Dade. He says the tapes will have no bearing on his probe, which he estimates will be completed in a month or two.

Last week Dade prosecutors again decided they had a conflict of interest and forwarded the tapes to Gov. Lawton Chiles for reassignment to a different state attorney. Anita Bock, district administrator for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), says she has listened to the tapes and has opened an investigation based on a new abuse report filed against Andres. She said this past Friday that the inquiry will take about a week, but would not speculate about what action the agency plans to take.

If HRS investigators determine that the four youngest Nogues children are currently at risk, they could remove them from their home. But even if investigators were to ascertain that the tapes were authentic, pressing criminal charges against Andres would be difficult -- the tapes could be construed as legally inadmissable as evidence because they were recorded without his consent, and Aimee's credibility as a witness is dubious.

The Nogues parents vow to continue their push to prosecute Aimee, who has responded by taking her battle to the press. With her older sister's help, she has distributed copies of the tapes to several media outlets and discussed their contents.

At the hastily called press conference on January 31, Aimee came prepared with an armload of copies of the transcripts. "I've never done one of these before," she mumbled as she stood in front of the Juvenile Justice Center awaiting the media. "I guess I'm supposed to make a statement." Aimee did finally speak, then answered questions from a small circle of reporters. Porras hovered nearby, occasionally stepping forward to correct her younger sister.

Ignored amid the hubbub was the stroller at Porras's feet, which contained Aimee's daughter and Michelle's youngest son, a cherubic one-year-old. While their mothers were otherwise occupied, the curious children had somehow gotten ahold of Aimee's tapes and converted them into toys. "Don't play with those," Porras scolded as the cassettes clattered to the ground and her son regarded her in startled confusion. "That's evidence!

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Steven Almond