Year Later, Legal Efforts Bring Stolen Baby Back to Her Mother

Times Staff Writer

When 19-year-old Dolores Cortez’s former boyfriend refused to say last December where in Mexico he had hidden their infant daughter, Orange County district attorney’s investigators put him in jail.

A contempt of court order and a state prison sentence for child stealing finally led 22-year-old Armando G. Montes to admit that the child was with Montes’ mother. He even made some telephone calls from a judge’s chambers in an apparent effort to get the child back. But nothing happened.

Last week, county officials lost patience with him.

Boosted by help from the U.S. State Department, the district attorney’s office put Cortez on an airplane last Saturday and sent her to Sahuayo, a small town near Guadalajara, to confront Montes’ mother. State Department officials used their influence to arrange for Mexican social services officers to accompany her.


‘She Was So Big’

Monday night, Cortez was back at her home in Tustin with her 16-month-old daughter, Jadira, a year and five days after Montes abducted the child at a baby-sitter’s house in Santa Ana.

“I cried and cried when I first saw her; she was so big,” Cortez said after a court hearing Thursday.

Cortez said the child’s grandmother, who knew authorities were coming for the girl, was cooperative.

“She had the baby’s things packed; she didn’t want to give her up, but she did,” Cortez said.

In a Santa Ana courtroom Thursday, mother and daughter cooed and giggled together as they listened to authorities discuss Montes’ fate.

His troubles are far from over. Commissioner Jane D. Myers purged the contempt of court order, which had kept him in Orange County Jail, but he still has two months to serve in state prison of his felony child kidnaping sentence of a year and a day.

After that, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott B. Well, Montes almost certainly will be deported. Although Cortez and the baby are American citizens, Montes is a Mexican national who entered the country illegally, Well said.

Montes did get some good news in court, however. At a mediation hearing, Cortez agreed to permit him weekend visitations--even to take their daughter across the border into Tijuana so the grandmother can visit her.

Cortez said she will honor the agreement, but only if she accompanies the child at all times.

“I think he has learned his lesson; I don’t think he would take her again. Still, I worry,” she said.

She had worried a lot the past year.

She and Montes, who had never married, broke up about a month after Jadira was born on Feb. 13, 1988.

On June 21, 1988, while Cortez was at work, she agreed to let Montes take the child for a walk at a baby-sitter’s house. He and their daughter never returned.

Child Taken to Mexico

Montes left the country, officials learned later, to take the child to his family in Mexico. He returned in November to Northern California, and made attempts to contact Cortez.

“He said he would bring the baby back if I would go back to him; I said I would,” she said. But when Montes returned to Orange County, Cortez had him arrested.

One problem was that because they had never married or officially separated, Cortez never had a court order granting her legal custody. The district attorney’s stolen child unit quickly helped straighten out that problem.

In April, Commissioner Myers persuaded Montes to call Mexico from her office to persuade the grandmother to give up the child. Montes claims that is what he did. But elaborate plans for the baby’s return fell through when the grandmother balked at the last minute.

About two weeks ago, after Montes’ conviction for child stealing, Myers let him call Mexico from her office again.

Montes’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Denise Gragg, claims it was this telephone call that persuaded the grandmother to cooperate.

But prosecutor Well said no one really knows what was said.

“It’s our position that if the State Department had not come through for us, the child would probably still be in Mexico,” he said.

District attorney’s investigators at first had a difficult time with the Cortez case. “It’s not that easy to just run across the border into another country and pick up a child and bring her back,” Well said.

First, investigators sought help from San Diego County authorities, who were supposed to have good contacts in Mexico. But that didn’t work, and Mexican police were unable to help. The state attorney general’s office couldn’t assist either, but staff members there recommended the State Department in Washington. State Department representatives in Mexico finally succeeded in persuading Mexican authorities to help get the child back to her mother.

Montes’ lawyer Gragg said that while Montes may have been wrong in stealing the child, “he didn’t understand what rights he might have in our system; he felt he was desperate and did what he thought he had to do.”

Cortez agrees that Montes probably helped her in the end. But she vows she will never let him see Jadira alone.

Cortez said she will try not to be angry about the time she had missed with Jadira. Right now, she just wants to enjoy her child. Cortez, an inspector at Ricoh Electronics, said her office has given her two weeks off to spend with her daughter.

“I’m just thankful to have her back,” she said.