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    Jury: Fleeing mom no criminal

    Jurors rule Alexandra Gould did nothing wrong by leaving the country with her daughters.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    LARGO -- Alexandra Gould says all she has ever wanted to do was live in the United States with her two young daughters, Jasmine and Kaili.

    But she said that was threatened in 1997.

    Mrs. Gould says she thought she faced deportation. So she fled with her girls to her native Great Britain, leaving the half sisters' fathers behind in Pinellas County.

    Later, she hid on an island off the coast of Spain to avoid sending the girls back to the United States without her.

    On Thursday, a jury vindicated a mother's decision and left two fathers puzzled and angry.

    A Pinellas jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Mrs. Gould, 35, not guilty of removing a child from the state contrary to a court order, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

    Mrs. Gould put her hands to her mouth as the verdict was announced. She then hugged her defense attorney, Jack Helinger.

    "I love my kids," she said afterward. "And that's what this has been all about."

    But it's only half the battle. The criminal charge related to just her 10-year-old daughter Kaili, whose father, Fred Gould, she divorced in 1991.

    Mrs. Gould still faces a second felony trial on a charge of interferring with child custody for taking Jasmine, now 5, to Britain.

    Mrs. Gould, who never married Jasmine's father, Mike Delgaty, 30, faces trial on the second charge later this year.

    Mrs. Gould had custody of both her children before fleeing. Now the girls live with their fathers, though she still has supervised visitation.

    "I'm just really shocked," said Kaili's father, Fred Gould, 35, of St. Petersburg. "She changed the focus of the trial to her and a bunch of nonsense she had no proof of. Her attorney did a hell of a job."

    For prosecutors, the trial hinged on a simple question: Did Mrs. Gould have legal authority to take Kaili out of Florida?

    Mrs. Gould, who lived alone in Pinellas Park with her children, owned a thriving business, Waterbed Traders in Clearwater.

    But she testified that the bottom dropped out of her happy life in July 1997, when the IRS told her it was auditing her business.

    Mrs. Gould first entered the United States in 1988 on a tourist's visa, which she later changed to a student visa after enrolling at St. Petersburg Junior College.

    Though her marriage to Fred Gould would have allowed her to obtain permanent resident's status, she divorced him before she could obtain it.

    So when the IRS came knocking, she was in the country illegally.

    Mrs. Gould testified that she feared the IRS would help force her deportation without her American daughters.

    Mrs. Gould said she decided to make a preemptive strike, leaving for Britain to try to solve her visa problems. She said she had every intention of returning once doing so, which the girls' fathers dispute.

    During her divorce, prosecutors say, a judge ordered her not to leave Florida, except on vacation, without the permission of the court. Prosecutor Kendall Davidson said Mrs. Gould got neither before she fled in August 1997.

    Mrs. Gould said she didn't need permission to leave temporarily to solve her visa problems. In any case, she filed papers with a Pinellas Court telling a judge about her visa problems, her intention to solve them and quickly return.

    Those papers were filed when she was already in Britain.

    Fred Gould said he thinks the visa "problems" were a smokescreen to cover a permanent move to Britain and that his ex-wife could have solved them without ever leaving the country.

    Once his ex-wife was in Britain, Mr. Gould filed papers in federal court seeking his daughter's return. In January 1998, when it seemed the English courts were about to order both children back to Pinellas, Mrs. Gould disappeared with them.

    The fathers say they spent a year and $150,000 before finally tracking her to the Spanish island of Ibiza, though they refuse to say how they found her. A Spanish court eventually ordered the children returned to the U.S.

    Mrs. Gould said she fled to the island because her ex-husband forced her hand. She said she panicked, believing she would never be allowed back into the United States to see her children.

    "So I took the kids and hid," Mrs. Gould said. "I did it purely for my daughters. It wasn't convenient for me at all to hide and lose everything."

    A family court suit is pending at which the fathers are seeking permanent custody of their daughters.

    Asked by her lawyer where she wanted to live, Mrs. Gould, now staying in the United States on a temporary visa, said, "Right here. Please."

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