It was one of the most prominent missing-persons cases in Manitoba history.
And now full details have emerged publicly for the first time about how two children were kidnapped from their Winnipeg home and kept in deplorable conditions in Mexico for four long years.
Robert Groen, 43, pleaded guilty Wednesday to abduction for his role in a complex criminal plot. He was sentenced to one year in jail following a daylong sentencing hearing.
The Free Press was the only media outlet in attendance and heard exclusive background of what occurred.
"They were virtually held prisoner," provincial court Judge Dale Schille said after hearing the facts.
Dominic Maryk, now 13, and Abby Maryk, now 11, vanished without a trace while on a court-authorized visitation with their father, Kevin Maryk, in August 2008. They wouldn't be located until May 2012 in Guadalajara.
Kevin Maryk remains before the courts and is set to be sentenced later this month. A third accused, Maryk's nephew, Cody McKay, is wanted on a warrant but has evaded arrest. McKay, 24, is believed to still be hiding out in Mexico.
Crown attorney Debbie Buors provided extensive details of how the crime occurred:
-- Robert Groen is a longtime neighbour, friend and business partner of Kevin Maryk. He was asked to help in a kidnapping plot in the summer of 2008, shortly after the Court of Queen's Bench ordered full custody to Emily Cablek, the mother of Dominic and Abby. Maryk was only to be allowed scheduled supervision, which angered him.
-- Maryk fled with the kids to Mexico and was joined by his nephew, McKay. Groen stayed behind in Winnipeg but played a vital part in the conspiracy.
-- Groen began a series of money transfers in November 2008, sending more than US$30,000 through Western Union to a man named Jesus Marques in Mexico. Marques is a Mexican cab driver recruited by Maryk and McKay to be the cash conduit. More than 30 transactions were made from a local Safeway store until August 2009.
-- Maryk's adult daughter told police she suspected Groen might be involved in the abduction in 2009. The hunch came after she spoke with Groen on the phone about her missing father, and Groen told her "He knew they were safe and on vacation," Buors told court.
-- Police interviewed Groen in late 2009, but he denied any knowledge or involvement. He was released without charge.
-- Winnipeg police believed they'd found Maryk's location in Mexico in December 2009, but investigators arrived to find the residence empty. He'd been tipped off by local authorities that police were on to him, and he quickly relocated.
-- Groen was reported missing by his wife and parents in February 2011. They discovered Groen had emptied out his bank account, sold $30,000 worth of jewelry, sold the car he was driving that was owned by his parents and even sold a $4,000 rare-stamp collection.
-- A Canada-wide warrant was issued for Groen in April 2011 after police got authorization to check his cellphone and computer records, where they learned of the transactions and flight to Mexico.
-- Groen lived with Maryk, McKay and the two abducted children between February 2011 and May 2012, providing financial assistance.
-- Police rescued Dominic and Abby, and arrested Groen and Maryk, after tips began pouring in about a family living in a tiny house surrounded by surveillance cameras, barbed wire and guard dogs. Police were told the children were going by the names of Kim and Damien and that they never left the home. Winnipeg police had distributed videos of the case, including one dubbed into Spanish, to Mexican businesses and media outlets.
-- Groen was described by locals as a "military man from New York," while Maryk was described as an aggressive, violent individual. "Screaming and punching could often be heard in the house," said Buors. Police found drugs and pornography inside the home during the raid, court was told.
Buors said Wednesday the conditions the abducted children were subjected to were "deplorable" and this is not a situation where they were given a better life than the one they had.
She was seeking a four-year sentence for Groen, saying he played a pivotal role in allowing the abduction to occur. Groen was asking for six months of time already served.
Defence lawyer John Corona said his client was under the control of Maryk, who he called an intimidating man with links to organized bikers and other outlaws. He said that's the only explanation why Groen walked away from his own life, sold off most of his belongings and helped finance the abduction before going to Mexico.
"He had no idea of the conditions the children were living in until he got there," Corona said Wednesday. "He was surprised and a little dismayed."
Groen then took on the role of "Uncle Rob" to the kids, often caring for them when Maryk would go out. Groen had no explanation for why he continued to turn a blind eye to what was happening.