NEW YORK (AP) — A nonprofit director who said he could help desperate parents recover children illegally taken from the United States during custody disputes was arrested Tuesday on charges accusing him of being a con man.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan alleges Peter Senese defrauded families by charging them large fees on the false promise he could reunite them with their children.
Senese, 49, was arrested Tuesday morning in Brooklyn. He was to make his first court appearance later in the day. The name of his attorney wasn't immediately available.
The complaint identifies Senese as the founder of an organization called I CARE. Websites promoting I CARE claim that "there have been many, many children of international parental child abduction who have been reunited and returned home due directly to the great efforts, and financial, legal and investigative resources" of the foundation.
From November 2013 to February 2015, Senese told potential clients that he could recover their children from other countries using former soldiers he knew from his days as a member of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, the court papers say. In one instance, he convinced a family that in exchange for a few thousand dollars, he would recover a child from India within a few weeks, the papers say.
"In fact, he could do no such thing, but that didn't stop him from allegedly repeatedly reaching out to the parents for more money to fund his non-existent rescue mission," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
During that time, Senese claimed he had traveled to India and sent several emails and text messages falsely assuring the family that the child's rescue was only days or even hours away, the complaint says. It says he also demanded more money to cover expenses — usually $3,000 to $5,000 a month.
But investigators found that when Senese claimed he was overseas, he was really in New York, Miami or Los Angeles, the court papers say. They also found no records showing he was ever in the military.
Prosecutors say Senese faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud.