NY cabbie arrested for baby hoax

March 1, 2008 5:52:58 PM PST
A cab driver who touched of a citywide hunt for the parents of a baby whom he claimed had been abandoned in his car was arrested Saturday after police determined his story was a hoax. Police said the driver, Klever Sailema, knew all along who the child was, but hid the truth to help an overwhelmed Bronx family abandon the infant, who had been born to a 14-year-old girl and man twice her age.

The ill-conceived plot collapsed late Friday night and several people were under arrest Saturday.

The arrests were a stunning development in a case that had captivated the city after pictures of the adorable baby girl were published in newspapers and broadcast on TV.

Police didn't immediately say what had broken the case open, but a family friend, Stuart Caban, told reporters that he had brought the 14-year-old mother to police Friday evening after finding her walking along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, carrying a newspaper with her daughter's picture and sobbing.

"She was depressed, scared, crying. She loved her daughter. She wanted to be with her," said Caban, a 23-year-old bail bondsman. Caban said the girl told her she hadn't wanted to leave the baby, but ran away after a violent fight with the father. It wasn't clear whether she knew about the plot.

The 44-year-old cabbie had been hailed as a good Samaritan after he dropped the baby off at a Queens firehouse Thursday, saying the child, who was about 6 months old, had been left in his car by a stranger.

Sailema told investigators his fare was a nervous-looking man who had gotten in carrying the baby and a diaper bag, then disappeared after asking the driver to pull over so he could make a phone call.

He even provided enough detail about the man's appearance that police released a sketch of the suspect. He repeated his tale to reporters at a news conference on Friday.

The truth, police said, was that the baby had been born to a teenager mother in a broken home. The father was believed to be 27 years old.

A superintendent at the Bronx apartment building where the couple lived, Saul Navarro, 43, said the baby's father had been distraught in recent days, saying the mother had run off and that he couldn't care for the child alone. Navarro said he helped the family find a baby sitter, but she was only able to care for the child for a few days.

Police said Sailema became involved in the family's crisis because he was dating the father's 21-year-old sister, Maria Siavichay, of the Bronx. Investigators believe she persuaded the cab driver to help her family abandon the baby.

It is unclear why the driver chose to bring the child to a firehouse, but a state "safe haven" law allows parents unable to care for their newborns to anonymously leave them at hospitals, police stations or fire stations without risk of prosecution. The law, though, only applies to children no more than five days old.

Sailema was charged Saturday with filing a false report, and he and Siavichay were charged with criminal facilitation for their role in the scheme.

Police initially said that the two would also be charged with endangering the welfare of a child, but a spokesman for the Queens District Attorney, Kevin Ryan, said prosecutors would not press additional charges for now.

"The case is still under investigation," Ryan added.

Siavichay's roommate, Marcelo Vinansaca, 24, of the Bronx, was also arrested by police, on suspicion of obstructing the investigation by giving false information to detectives. Ryan said Queens prosecutors probably wouldn't press those charges either, although they might still be filed in the Bronx.

The baby's mother will likely not face charges because of her age, said Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.

Investigators were still hunting for the child's father late Saturday. His name has not yet been released. The baby was placed in a foster home by the Administration for Children's Services.

New York State Federation Of Taxi Drivers Spokesman Fernando Mateo, who had championed Sailema as a hero earlier in the week, said he felt betrayed, but wouldn't condemn the cabbie.

"I am looking at a desperate man who was trying to help a desperate family," Mateo said.

The union was looking into hiring an attorney for Sailema.

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Associated Press Writer Clare Trapasso contributed to this report.

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