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A Seattle man who was the subject of an international manhunt last fall, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to International Parental Kidnapping, announced Acting United States Attorney Annette L. Hayes. JEFFREY FORD HANSON, 46, was taken into custody in late October 2014, on the South Pacific island of Niue, 1,500 miles northeast of New Zealand. HANSON had been sought by law enforcement since September 12, 2014, when he was charged with international parental kidnapping for leaving Seattle with his son in violation of a court approved parenting plan. U.S. District Judge James L. Robart scheduled sentencing in the case for June 8, 2014.
According to records filed in the case, on July 17, 2014, HANSON’s son arrived in Seattle with his mother’s permission to visit for the summer months. HANSON knew he was required to return the child to Hazelton, Pennsylvania prior to the start of school in early September 2014. On August 30, 2014, unbeknownst to the mother, HANSON departed the Seattle area aboard his sailboat, the Draco, with the child onboard and set sail across the Pacific Ocean. When the boy failed to return to Pennsylvania before school started, the boy’s mother alerted law enforcement. The Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies throughout the Pacific Rim were then asked to be on the lookout for the boat and the child.
According to the FBI, the Niue Police arrested HANSON on Wednesday, October 29, at his sailboat which was docked on Niue shores in violation of Niue immigration and customs laws. The Niue police knew of the warrant for Hanson's arrest because the FBI’s Legal Attaché office in Canberra, Australia, passed the missing person and wanted fliers to the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Center (PTCCC), a multi-national law enforcement network, of which the Niue Police Department is a member. Niue police publicized the search for Hanson in the country and alert members of the public provided the crucial tip that led authorities to the boat. The 9-year-old boy was safely returned to his mother in Pennsylvania.
International Parental Kidnapping is punishable by up to three years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend HANSON be sentenced to time served – approximately seven months in prison. Judge Robart is free to impose any sentence up to the maximum allowed by law.
The investigation was led jointly by the FBI’s Seattle Safe Streets Task Force (SSSTF), whose many Task Force Officers include members of the Seattle Police Department Major Crimes Task Force. The Hazleton Police Department, the FBI’s Philadelphia and Los Angeles field offices, the Port of Seattle Police Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, collaborated on the investigation from the beginning. The FBI also values the tremendous assistance of the New Zealand Police, New Zealand Customs Service, and Immigration New Zealand.The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin Arnold and Steven Masada.