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,”
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
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
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
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.