The I-Team received a tip a few months ago that a fugitive wanted for the alleged forcible public abduction of his children in South America was working as a real estate broker here in Chicago. Despite his picture plastered on an Interpol worldwide alert, it didn't take much investigation for the I-Team to find him. Pinning down the backstory has been more difficult.
In the desperado world, Brazil is a place where fugitives go to hide. This Chicago man has stayed away from there. Valdir Barion Araujo is wanted by Brazil. Sixteen months ago in the swankest section of Rio de Janero, authorities say Araujo and a virtual commando squad kidnapped his 5 and 8-year-old sons.
According to court records, Araujo hired this Brazilian marine and four other men who jumped the boys' elderly grandparents on this street corner, grabbed the children and forced them into getaway cars.
In these documents, a Brazilian judge stated that Araujo "violently abducted" the children, fled toward bordering Paraguay and was preparing to take the boys to Chicago.
Araujo was intercepted, arrested and charged with kidnapping. When released he came back to Chicago, but Brazilian authorities say he hasn't returned to Brazil to face the criminal charges.
The global police agency Interpol more than a year ago issued this worldwide red notice for the 41-year old Araujo, stating he's wanted by Brazilian authorities for prosecution or to serve jail time for abduction and imprisonment.
"Red Notices, for wanted persons, facilitate the arrest of offenders with a view toward their extradition," said Interpol in its "Command and Coordination" video.
"In the case of a Red Notice, it is telling member countries that a particular individual iswanted and will be prosecuted in that country of origin and that the country will seek that persons extradition if they are found in another country," said Bill Sorukas, retired chief, U.S. Marshal Service.
Bill Sorukas is former head of international investigations for the U.S. Marshal service, the agency that would enforce Interpol's Red Notice, once Brazil formally requests an arrest warrant.
But ex-Secret Service official Arnette Heintz, now a private security executive in Chicago, says it is easy for someone to hide in plain sight from foreign authorities.
"There is some complexity involved and if somebody wants to stay hidden for a while they can find ways to do that," said Heintz.
Araju certainly wasn't difficult for the I-Team to find, although here in Chicago, he simply goes by Valdir Barion. His Facebook page features him against a glowing Chicago backdrop. The website for his Chicago real estate business shows the same person as in the fugitive flyer.
ABC7's Chuck Goudie asks: "You know that your wanted by Interpol, don't you?"
In several phone conversations Barion told me he was the victim, had quite a story to tell, and wanted to tell it on TV. So, we went to see Barion in his real estate office and offered to hear his side of things.
Goudie: "Could you tell him that I am here please?"
Turned out Barion didn't want an interview after all, saying it would be bad for business. Then his attorney called as we were leaving, asking that we not run the story.
Goudie: "OK, so he doesn't care to tell his side of this?"
A few days later, against his attorney's advice, Barion sent the I-Team an email about his estranged wife Ana and their children who were born and raised in Illinois. In 2012 he says she took them to Brazil, stopped communicating with him and refused him any contact with the children. He sent these county court records showing he has custody and a court order from Cook County authorizing "travel to Rio to bring them back home." He denies having used violence and claims his Brazilian in-laws used political influence and police connections to convince authorities he had abducted the children.
"Whether there is a family involved or a situation like that has much to do with the decision to seek a person's extradition. That is a legal matter that the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs would entertain at the time the request comes in from the foreign government," said Sorukas.
"The United States Marshals office was aware that the individual is wanted by Brazil. They made notification to the country of interest. It is now up to that country to make a determination whether or not they want any further action," said Heintz.
Barion says he notified authorities where he was as soon as he learned of the Interpol red alert, and that there are no pending charges against him.
He contends changing his name had nothing to do with evading detection, that no one could pronounce Araujo when he moved here in 1990, and he officially changed it when he became a U.S. citizen.
He does hold a valid Illinois real estate license that state officials say does not require a background check, nor would a foreign criminal warrant get in the way.
E-mail from Valdir Barion to I-Team:
Dear Mr. Goudie,
Against my attorney's advice, I have answered your questions but I urge you to learn all the important details about my case before broadcasting something that is untruth, anything short of that is simply slander.
When Ana took my children to Brazil, she stopped communicating with me and refused to let me see or speak with them.
I have a court order from my children's home State of Illinois giving me custody and also authorizing me to travel to Rio to bring them back home. In addition, according to the Brazilian Constitution, "Resolution 131" (attached) authorizes a parent with the custody of his/hers own children to travel back home without the consent of the non-custodian parent.
After I was awarded custody of my children by a Cook county Judge on May 29th 2012, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro to bring my children back home. (See court order attached.) Despite what was published by the media in Brazil, there was no violence involved whatsoever.
Ana's family used their political connections to convince the Brazilian Federal Police my children were native Brazilians and that I was the one abducting them. At no time she mentioned to the Brazilian authorities my children were born and raised in Illinois, that I was the parent with the custody of the children from their home State as set forth in the attached court order and that Ana had a Federal Hague Convention Case for child abduction filed against her in the United States.
Based on my in-law's political influence and my ex-wife false allegations to the Brazilian Federal Police, they issued a Red Alert with Interpol in record time without any proof whatsoever. This order was issued directly from Brasilia overriding the State of Rio jurisdiction and it was issued in 24 hours, something unheard of in Brazil. In addition to Ana's family political connections in Rio and Brasilia, she also has family members that work inside the Federal Police in Rio.
I returned to Chicago a few days after the children were returned to Ana on a commercial flight and I did not have to post any bond. Please see United States Embassy document attached.
As soon as I learned about the "Red Alert" my attorneys immediately informed the authorities of my whereabouts.
As for my different last name, when I moved to Chicago in 1990 I stopped using the last name Araujo simply because people could not pronounce it. I made this change officially when I became a US Citizen more than a decade ago.
There is absolutely nothing pending here in the US and no charges were ever filed against me. The person with a body attachment order (see attached) was Ana and not I.
My custody battle dates back to early 2012 and as in many international custody cases it is a very painful and complicated process to all parties involved, especially the children.
This case should not be about a "Red Alert", this case should be about international laws not being honored. The focus of this story should be the well-being of the children involved and not the alert.
I now kindly ask that mine and my children's privacy are respected during this very difficult time of our lives.
PS. If you care to learn a little more about child abduction cases and Brazil's fame for harboring this type of criminals, please read the links below.