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Featured in News
A Brick Wall

By Stan DeCoster - More Articles
Published on 10/1/2000
Jacquie Glassenberg/The Day
Jeffrey Rubenstein's son, Randy, was abducted by his wife three years ego. Despite federal and private investigations, no solid leads have emerged on the boy's whereabouts. Rubenstein believes people with influence and power have greater chance to locate loved ones in such cases.

Bipan Shah has incredible wealth and substantial clout. It may not be a coincidence that the Philadelphia banker also has regained custody of his two daughters after they were abducted in June 1997 by his wife and then tucked away in an underground network in Europe.

Jeffrey Rubenstein of Waterford, by contrast, is a man of modest means and limited influence. And the whereabouts of his son, Randy, remains a mystery more than three years after the boy's mother took their son on a winding journey through Florida and Georgia before the two went into hiding in Europe. She ducked under-ground when it appeared she was about to lose a custody battle with her husband.

Rubenstein family members and Harry K. Boardsen of Groton, their private investigator, are convinced they know why the search for Shah's children was successful, while they are left wondering about Randy, whose seventh birthday is next month.

“It's all about money, power and political influence,” Boardsen said.

The public record discloses that law enforcement authorities made a concerted effort to locate Shah's two girls, Sarah and Genevieve. They were returned to the father, with the assistance of the FBI, in April 1999. On the other hand, the Rubensteins maintain, authorities – from Waterford police to the U.S. Department of Justice – have put little energy into the search for Randy, and have given only lip service to their pleas for help.

Boardsen, in particular, criticized several members of the Waterford police department, including Chief Murray Pendleton, saying they botched the case shortly after Bonnie Rubenstein, the mother, disappeared with her son. Boardsen said that Pendleton should resign or be removed from office because of the way his department handled the abduction, when the matter could have been resolved relatively easily. Pendleton said he has no intention of stepping down.

“They threw the Rubensteins out of the police department and told them never to come back, because they considered it a civil matter,” Boardsen said. “And this was a kidnapping, a heinous crime.”

Jeffrey Rubenstein and Boardsen, meanwhile, said in separate interviews that Shah acknowledged to them that he gave money to an Atlanta woman in exchange for her role in returning his daughters. The payment would have been to Faye Yager, a fast-talking, hard-driving Southern belle who for years headed an international network known as Children of the Underground. Yager, a self-professed protector of abused children, played a pivotal role in hiding the Shah girls, the Rubenstein boy, and hundreds of other children she came to believe were living in abusive homes.

Rubenstein said Shah confirmed to Boardsen and himself, during a three-way telephone conversation, that he had paid what, in effect, was a ransom to Yager for the return of his girls. The Rubensteins also suspect the FBI may have cooperated with Yager.

“Bipan said how he had recovered his children,” Rubenstein said. “And he told us both that he had paid (Yager) some money. He told us it wasn't huge, but that he had paid her off. He said he paid her for travel expenses – plus. He didn't say how much the plus was.”

Shah, who is credited with helping develop the ATM machine, disclosed during a court deposition in June that he had invested $3.2 million toward the retrieval of his daughters, with much of it going to lawyers, public relations specialists and private investigators. He declined to say whether he had given money to Yager, and he denied that he had told Boardsen that he had.

“Boardsen asked me a lot of questions,” Shah testified. “And I usually said, 'Harry, I can't discuss a lot of those things. You know that.' ”

Shah, at about the same time, dropped a $100-million lawsuit against Yager, for her alleged role in the disappearance of his children. Two years have passed since the Rubensteins filed a $90-million lawsuit against Yager, and still no trial date has been set.

Shah last week downplayed his wealth as a factor in the retrieval of his daughters. “It's not just the money,” he said. “Money played a role, but money didn't get it done.”

He didn't respond directly when asked whether he made a payment to Yager. His deposition, he said, speaks for itself. He argued that he was successful in locating his daughters because of his hands-on approach and his refusal to delegate authority on important decisions.

The FBI's role

Money matters notwithstanding, Shah appeared to benefit from cooperation with law enforcement.

Authorities convened a federal grand jury in Philadelphia to consider taking action against Yager. No indictment resulted, but the investigation may have increased the pressure on Yager, who once admitted she feared Shah.

“I'm terrified. I'm afraid he's going to do me in,” she said in a television interview.

And Shah, in his deposition, said that an FBI agent, Ray Carr, had been assigned to him and it was Carr who notified him that his children had been spotted in Lucerne, Switzerland. The Rubensteins, by contrast, complained they can't even get the FBI to call them on the telephone.

The family has appealed, since Randy's disappearance in August 1997, to Waterford police, the New London County State's Attorney, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney's office in Atlanta. They also have asked U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-2nd District, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., to intervene.

There have been expressions of interest, according to private investigator Boardsen, but no law enforcement agency or politician has made a concerted effort to retrieve the boy. And today, he said, the investigation seems paralyzed.

“Waterford police don't have the reach to get the job done, the state's attorney's office is too busy, and the FBI doesn't like me,” Boardsen said.

Boardsen, who is known for a style that is aggressive, outspoken and confrontational, acknowledged that he has poor relations with the FBI office in New Haven, especially agent Ralph A. DiFonzo, who heads the Fugitive Task Force in Connecticut. Boardsen said he once quit the case for six months – concerned that his involvement was proving counterproductive – but he got back in when it became apparent that nothing had been done with him out of the picture.

Officials with the various agencies, including FBI agent DiFonzo, disputed claims they haven't vigorously pursed the case. None of them would discuss details of the investigation. Pendleton, the Waterford chief, and DiFonzo said the case is active and leads have been pursued. New London County State's Attorney Kevin Kane wouldn't discuss what his office is doing, but said he knows the case isn't being ignored by Waterford police and the Fugitive Task Force.

Equal justice at issue

It's not that the Rubenstein case has been hidden from public view. The disappearance of Randy Rubenstein has attracted national media attention, having been featured on Dateline NBC and Oprah, among other places.

The story is this:

Bonnie Rubenstein bolted Connecticut three years ago when it appeared that a judge in New London Superior Court hadn't accepted her claims that Jeffrey Rubenstein had physically abused their only child. She later charged that the boy had been sexually abused as well, but authorities have said they found no substance to any of the allegations. Bonnie and Randy later became lost in Yager's underground, and are believed to be living under assumed names in Europe. The father has been awarded sole custody of the child.

The Shah and Rubenstein cases have seemed, at times, to be intertwined. In fact, Shah, in his deposition, reported that one of his investigators, a Frenchman, happened across information that Bonnie and Randy were hiding in Germany.

“He says, 'Bipan, this is not about you, but Bonnie Rubenstein is in Dusseldorf.' ”

Subsequent efforts to locate her, however, were unsuccessful. Boardsen said the Rubensteins didn't have the money to finance investigative efforts that would have been required for a successful search in Germany.

The Rubensteins and Boardsen believe Randy still would be in Waterford if police there had handled the matter correctly in the first place, but instead chose to treat it as a civil dispute. Boardsen said he respects most members of the police department, but some were “incompetent, ignorant and arrogant as regards this case.” He said police three years ago paid one visit to a home in Waterford where Bonnie was believed to be hiding Randy, but someone who was inside turned out the lights, and police never returned.

The Rubensteins have filed a $7 million suit against the department, alleging that Waterford police had ample opportunity to retrieve Randy but chose to allow the parental abduction to happen. The lawsuit charges, among other things, that one officer connected with the case had an intimate relationship with the fleeing mother. The suit also alleges that the officer, Hugh C. Teel Jr., manufactured a false record of domestic violence complaints against Jeffrey Rubenstein to advance Teel's romantic interests with Bonnie, and to influence the custody fight in her favor.

Pendleton refused to discuss the Rubenstein case, saying he can't comment when a lawsuit is pending.

Boardsen said he recently met with Kevin Kane, the state's attorney for New London County, and he knows the prosecutor subsequently sat down with the FBI and Elaine Dembroff of Waterford, Bonnie Rubenstein's mother. Kane refused to confirm this, and declined to discuss any aspect of the case. Dembroff also declined to comment.

As for the FBI, the Rubensteins feel they're being ignored.

Phylaine Rubenstein, Randy's grandmother, said the FBI in New Haven promised during a meeting two years ago to keep the family informed, and to expect a telephone update every Wednesday. “We got calls the first two Wednesdays, and haven't heard from them since,” she said.

Part of the problem appears to center around soured relations between Boardsen and DiFonzo, who heads the Fugitive Task Force. It reached a point, according to Boardsen, where DiFonzo threatened to withdraw the fugitive warrant for Bonnie if he didn't get out of the case. He also accused DiFonzo of blocking an attempt to broadcast an appeal for the return of Randy over the Voice of America in Europe.

DiFonzo said he barely knows Boardsen and doesn't have any feelings about him, positive or negative. Without addressing Boardsen's specific claims, he denied the investigation has been impeded by a personality conflict.

“I've worked for the FBI for 30 years,” he said. “I know what he's saying and I personally don't care what he says. The case is active and we're working on it. That's all fine. In 30 years, he's not the first person to say something about me.”

Democrats Dodd and Gejdenson, meanwhile, have tried to turn up the heat in meetings with U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Last week, two supervisory special agents within the FBI met with Dodd representatives, and there has been at least one meeting in Gejdenson's office. Both Democrats said the FBI has provided assurances they are actively pursing the boy's disappearance.

Marvin Fast, a spokesman for Dodd, said represenatives for the Democratic senator made it clear to the FBI agents that this is a case that deserves a top priority.

“We pressed our case, we made it clear that this has been going on for far too long, and that this family has been in limbo,” Fast said. “We're doing everything we can to rattle the cage on this thing. They said they clearly understand that, and this is not a case that has been stuffed into somebody's file drawer.”

Boardsen wrote to Dodd's office in September 1999, complaining that federal authorities had displayed little enthusiasm for the matter. “Absent (Dodd's) intercession, I believe that Randy will never be found,” Boardsen wrote.

Dodd's office requested last week's meeting with the FBI after a reporter asked the senator's office whether the FBI's effort over the past year appeared satisfactory.

Gejdenson became involved during the summer, also at the request of the Rubensteins.

In fact, Boardsen said that he and two members of the Rubenstein family met with officials from the justice department and the FBI in late July. They promised to get back to the Rubensteins by Aug. 14, according to Boardsen, but the family is still waiting for a response.

As the case festers, all the Rubensteins can do is wonder about it all. Mostly, they wonder how one father managed to retrieve his teen-aged girls, while another one remains frustrated and alone. 

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