Hakkens back in Tampa after Cubans turn them over
Joshua Hakken was seeking refuge from U.S. authorities but found no safe harbor when he docked his sailboat in Havana, Cuba.
Hakken, his wife, Sharyn, and their children, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, returned to Tampa early today.
Cuban officials said Tuesday they would turn over the couple, who are accused of snatching away their two sons, then sailing some 330 miles or more through the Gulf of Mexico on a 25-foot sailboat to reach the island nation Monday.
At a news conference early today, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said the family was being returned on a plane with several members of law enforcement and a victims' counselor from Cuba to Hillsborough County. At 10 p.m. Tuesday, local, state and federal investigators flew to Cuba to meet with Cuban authorities and get the family the Cuban government.
According to WFLA reporter Peter Bernard, the plane landed at Tampa International Airport about 1:30 a.m.
Sheriff David Gee said the couple will be booked into Orient Road Jail. They will each face a federal charge of fleeing to avoid prosecution. Joshua Hakken will be charged with child neglect, kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, interference with child custody, burglary, and grand theft auto. Sharyn Hakken will be charged with kidnapping, interference with child custody and child neglect.
The children and the family dog, which accompanied the family to Cuba, will be returned to the maternal grandparents, the sheriff said.
Gee said according to information he had received, the children were fine.
The sheriff said the family had gotten into Havana without the United States knowing.
On Tuesday, Johana Tablada of the Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a written statement that Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday.
When the State Department found out the Hakkens were there, they told the FBI, who informed sheriff's officials, Gee said.
Of Cuban authorities, FBI Special Agent in Charge Dave Couvertier said, “They've been very supportive and very cooperative in all our requests in trying to make sure that we get the family back safely.”
Gee said it's not unusual for fugitives to flee to other countries, but it is unusual for them to flee to Cuba.
“This was not your typical parental kidnapping,” Couvertier added.
The boys' grandparents, Bob and Patricia Hauser, appeared before the media after midnight. They looked relieved, but shed no tears.
“Our grandchildren are safe. We had an opportunity to talk with them before they left Cuba,” Bob Hauser said. “They're on their way and they'll be home soon and safe.”
“Right now, we're just looking forward to getting them in our arms and hugging them and being with them and getting them home where they'll be safe again.”
He thanked law enforcement for their work, the State Department and the Cuban government for being so cooperative for returning the kids.”
He thanked everyone for their prayers. “It was very, very comforting to my wife and I that that was going on,” he said.
Joshua and Sharyn Hakken may have thought they could escape U.S. authorities in the communist island nation, but experts said Cuba had little to gain politically by holding a man with criminal charges pending against him.
“There is no upside for Cuba,” said Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami.
There is no extradition agreement between the U.S. and Cuba and the island nation is also not a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty for governmental cooperation on such cases.
The quick decision by Cuba to turn over the family ran counter to predictions from U.S.-based Cuban experts, though none claimed to know the mind of the unpredictable regime of President Raul Castro, now in its fifth year.
Luis Martínez-Fernández, who teaches Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Central Florida, said the regime has lowered some of the historical barriers erected during the reign of Castro's brother Fidel.
“Some of them have to do with easing travel. Some of them have to do with private enterprises,” Martínez-Fernández said. “There have been releases of political prisoners.”
He said he didn't think Castro is “going to use these kids as a bargaining tool. It looks very ugly when you have kids as hostages whether it's here or there.”
Cuba's decision to turn over the Hakkens is a “reflection of Raul Castro's slow progress and clear indication that Cuba wants no new antagonisms with the U.S.”
Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa attorney who has long had dealings with legal matters involving Cuba, said whatever happens, the Cuban government would find a way to benefit itself.
“They'll get something out of it,” Fernandez said. “It's got nothing to do with law and has nothing to do with reason… Cuba is a rogue state. They don't follow international law and they could care less.”
Fernandez said Cuba has given safe haven to violent fugitives from U.S. law for years, back to Joanne Chesimard, who in 1979 escaped from prison in New Jersey where she was serving a life sentence for the 1973 murder of a state trooper by members of the Black Liberation Army. The FBI believes Chesimard has been in Cuba since 1984.
Americans are allowed by their own country to obtain Cuba travel licenses only for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips.
According to the State Department website, “entering Cuban territory, territorial waters or airspace (generally within 12 nautical miles of the Cuban coast) without prior authorization from the Cuban government may result in arrest or other enforcement action by Cuban authorities.”
Still, Fernandez said it's common for Americans to sail into Cuban marinas and pay taxes and other fees, then “do what you want and leave” with no record of the visit.
The Cuban government searches every arriving boat to ensure no infiltrators are on board, Fernandez said, and visitors are filmed and closely monitored.
On Tuesday, the Hakkens were spotted alongside their boat, Salty, at Havana's Hemingway Marina. Joshua Michael Hakken told reporters to stay away but the family appeared to be interacting normally with each other.
Joshua Hakken is accused of breaking into his mother-in-law's North Tampa home on Wednesday and whisking away his sons. The incident took place the day after a Louisiana court awarded custody of the boys to their maternal grandparents.
The custody order was issued after Hakken was arrested on drug charges last June. Police said he and his wife created a disturbance at a hotel in Slidell, La. The children were placed in a foster home in Louisiana and Hakken later attempted to get them back at gunpoint, police said.
“Reading the report that occurred in Louisiana,” Sheriff Gee said, “there was clearly neglectful behavior. When this custody issue was taking place, they really did not participate. As a result, authorities in la gave custody to the grandparents. The parents didn't participate in the system.”
Soon after, Chase and Cole, still under foster care, were placed with their grandparents, Patricia and Robert Hauser in Tampa, said Joe Follick, spokesman for the Florida Department of Children & Families.
DCF caseworkers conducted a home study at the Hausers' residence and deemed it was safe for the children to live there, Follick said.
Before the Wednesday abduction of the two boys, deputies had not received any calls for service at the Hauser home, said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.
During the break-in, deputies said, Hakken tied up Patricia Hauser, took his sons while they were still in their pajamas, met up with his wife and changed vehicles.
They then drove to Madeira Beach, deputies said. Surveillance video showed the sailboat Hakken had recently bought gliding out of Johns Pass into the Gulf of Mexico about 3 1/2 hours after the abduction, deputies said. The family was on board.
With the national manhunt shifting from land to sea, Joshua Hakken, a licensed engineer, managed to guide the 1972 Morgan sailboat through over open sea while eluding authorities.
Gary Wall, a maritime expert and sailboat instructor, said he thinks Hakken's vessel was just the right size to slip under the manhunt's net.
“Sailboats are terrible radar targets,” said Wall, who once served in the U.S. Coast Guard. “It's not hard for them to slip through.”
But Hakken, who once claimed on an online libertarian message board that he was devoted to individual rights, steered his family to the only dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.
On the online forum “Adam Vs. The Man,” the official site of libertarian activist and talk show host Adam Kokesh, Joshua Hakken wrote that he is “absolutely devoted to life, liberty, the rights of the individual and the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Authorities have described Joshua and Sharyn Hakken as “anti-government.”
Sharyn Hakken's former employer said her involvement in the boys' abduction shocked him.
“She is very mellow,” said Darrell Hanecki, owner of Hanecki Consulting Engineers, Inc. “She is not someone prone to being erratic. There was very little that was unpredictable about her.”
Hanecki said Sharyn Hakken worked for him about 11 years and he never heard about any family problems.
“She was a good mom,” Hanecki said. “She never said anything bad about Josh. They went to University of South Florida football games together. They were as typical as an American family that you would see.”
Reporter Jose Patino Girona contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.