The Case From Hell, Part I

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Aimee's eldest brother, Andy Nogues Cabo, now 24, recalls talking with Aimee on the phone that night, after she and Michelle returned to the Porras home. "I said, `Aimee, what's this all about? Why are you saying this?' And she said she just wanted out of the house. I told her maybe I could negotiate something. Then Michelle got on the phone and she had this whole master plan to take over the kids and get my parents' money for child support and their house. I said, `You are just absolutely crazy. You don't have a job. Your husband doesn't have a job. They'll never give you seven kids.'"

Andy was wrong. That same night at 1:00 a.m., two HRS investigative caseworkers and seven Metro-Dade police officers descended on the Nogueses' Kendall home and removed the six remaining children, ages four to sixteen, initially telling the Nogueses only that Lisette had been accused of physical abuse. Though HRS supervisor Alex de Calvo noted that there were allegations against Andres, too, he did not specify them. He also rejected Lisette's offer to leave the premises so the family could remain intact -- despite his eventual admission, in a sworn deposition, that Aimee's allegations against her mother were insufficient to deprive Lisette of custody (9).

The children were sent that night to stay with Michelle and Rick Porras in his parents' two-bedroom home, a placement in apparent contradiction (10) of HRS's own rule that children in a dependency case should be placed with custodians not adversarial to the parents. Michelle Porras wasn't merely adversarial. Like her sister Aimee, she was an accuser.

Late that first night Metro-Dade Police Det. Ellen Christopher, of the sexual battery unit, called to inform Andres he'd been accused of sexual assault against Aimee. The Nogueses were stunned. Detective Christopher began a criminal investigation of the claim, while HRS began building a case for juvenile court. The next morning Christopher brought in Andres for questioning. He and Lisette both waived their Miranda rights and gave full statements, vehemently denying Aimee's allegations. Andres volunteered to take a polygraph exam (four days later he did take a police-administered test, and passed it). (11) Christopher, convinced the case merited further scrutiny, released Andres, and pressed forward with her investigation.

At a juvenile court hearing two days later, both parents offered to leave their house, entreating Judge Bruce Levy to move the seven kids back home, with Andy Cabo and a grandmother as guardians. On the advice of HRS investigative caseworker Shelly Snodgrass, Levy rejected the plan. But that same day Detective Christopher moved sixteen-year-old Javier Nogues from the Porras home back to his parents' at his request, after watching him trade threats with Rick Porras, who outsized him by some 80 pounds and eight inches (12).

Christopher had called HRS officials to approve the move, but was later opposed by June Shaw, a volunteer for the state-funded Guardian Ad Litem program assigned by the court to represent the children's best interests. The Nogueses filed a motion to allow Javier to stay at home, but the court rejected it on the advice of both HRS and a Guardian Ad Litem attorney speaking on Shaw's behalf. Javier was sent back to the Porras home, but weeks later he ran away. He ended up being placed with his older brother Andy Cabo.

"I was very worried," says Cabo, "because...HRS and the Guardian Ad Litem continued to protect [the Porrases] for no apparent reason. I told June Shaw, `Look at the contrast between my sister and I. It's not black and gray -- it's black and white. She has a psychiatric record (14), she doesn't have a job. On the other hand, I'm extremely stable. I have a good job.' I showed her my honorable discharge, my college transcript, which is straight A's, even credit reports."

Rick Porras says neither he nor Michelle will answer questions, respond to allegations, or discuss the issues in the case. "I don't think it's worth it for us to comment," he explains, "because we didn't get a fair shot [in a Miami Herald article last year] and we don't think we will get a fair shot now. To tell you the truth, we want to be left alone, we don't want to be bothered by anybody. We're doing great.... Every time this issue comes up, it causes trouble, because the kids can read and it upsets them.

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Steven Almond