A Winnipeg father has admitted to kidnapping his two children and then whisking them off to Mexico where they were kept in deplorable conditions for four long years.
Kevin Maryk pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of abduction. He is set to be sentenced on Monday, where the Crown is expected to seek a five-year prison term. Maryk remains in custody without bail.
Full details about the high-profile case emerged last week for the first time at the sentencing hearing for a co-accused.
Robert Groen, 43, pleaded guilty to abduction for his role in what was described as a complex criminal plot. He was given one year in jail following a day-long sentencing hearing.
The Winnipeg 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.
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, Cody McKay. Groen stayed behind in Winnipeg but played a vital part in the conspiracy.
McKay, 24, is now wanted on a warrant but has evaded arrest. He is believed to still be hiding out in Mexico.
Accomplice handled wire transfers
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," Crown attorney Debbie 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.
House surrounded by barbed wire, guard dogs
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 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, whom 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 told court. "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.
In a powerful victim impact statement, the children’s mother told court how life will never be the same again.
Emily Cablek described the joy of being reunited with her kids -- and the trauma of discovering just how much had changed.
"I want to give my children the best future possible. But with everything that's happened, it's put all our lives backwards," said Cablek.
Seemingly simple things such as enforcing house rules take on an entirely different tone when the children you are attempting to discipline were ripped from your care for so long, she said.
"I was terrified when I first saw them. I didn't know if they would recognize me, if they were mad at me," Cablek said through tears.
Effects on children dramatic
Both children returned from Mexico incredibly damaged. They weren't provided medical or dental care, didn't attend a day of school and were isolated from any other children.
"They missed so much. They have so much catching up to do," said Cablek.
There is also plenty of confusion about their father, who took them on the run and is now gone from their lives.
"They both miss their dad, of course. They don't know why he did what he did," she said.
Abby, now 11, is struggling the most. When asked by police to describe what happened to her, she immediately curled into a fetal position on the floor and refused to speak. That hasn't changed to this day.
"She puts it behind her rather than deal with it. It's like that time of her life doesn't exist. She doesn't like to talk about anything," said Cablek.
Dominic, now 13, is also suffering extreme emotional issues that put him into an almost childlike state at times. He spends much of his time immersed in the carefree world of video games.
"He still has nightmares, is afraid of the dark," said Cablek.
All of them have spent countless hours with psychologists and counsellors. But progress is slow.
"Things aren't the way I'd hoped they'd be," said Cablek. She is also suffering from anxiety and depression, along with learning how to parent again after such an extended absence.
"These are four years she will never be able to get back, four years of milestones she missed while her children were taken away from her," Crown attorney Debbie Buors told court.