Former Olympic Athlete Disappears with American Son in Brazil

Photo: Former Olympic Athlete Disappears with American Son in Brazil: American Kelvin Birotte Said His Wife Took Their Child to Brazil in 2006 and Never ReturnedABC News
Kelvin Birotte and his son are seen in this undated photo taken from video. Birotte says his wife, a former Olympic athlete, took their American-born son to Brazil in 2006 and never returned.

This weeks was supposed to have held a joyous reunion more than three years in the making.

But for a Houston father who has been fighting to get his American-born son back on U.S. soil, there has been only more heartache. One day after a Brazilian court ruled that his son be returned to the U.S., Kelvin Birotte's wife disappeared with 4-year-old Kelvin Birotte Jr., setting off an international manhunt.

Now, his wife's attorney in Brazil has vowed to file an appeal that could further tie up the court case while law enforcement searches for Kelvin Jr.

Birotte, a 43-year-old chef, has devoted the last three and a half years to bringing his son home after his wife, Olympic volleyball medalist Hilma Aparicida Caldeira, took the then-infant for a visit to her native Brazil and never returned.

On Monday, Birotte got the call he'd been waiting for telling him that the Brazilian court in Belo Horizonte had sided with him and ordered 4-year-old Kelvin Birotte Jr. be returned to the United States immediately.

"I was shocked," he said of the call from the U.S. State Department's Office for Children's Issues, which had been assisting him with the international abduction proceedings. "At first I had to sit down because my knees gave out. And then came the joy and tears."

But then, just tears. One day later, he received a second call that Caldeira had fled her home with their son.

"At this point I don't really know what state of mind she's in," Birotte said.

Instead of heading to Brazil to pick up his son, Birotte is now down there hoping Interpol and Brazilian authorities will find him safe. The U.S. quickly arranged for Birotte's expired visa to Brazil to be renewed and Brazilian authorities have arranged for a U.S. passport for Kelvin Jr.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said in a statement to that his office was notified by the State Department of Caldeira's intent to appeal the court's ruling to send Kelvin back to the U.S.

"We have relayed this information to Mr. Birotte and will do everything we can to ensure a safe, expeditious reunion of father and son," Culberson said.

Birotte's case is eerily reminiscent of David Goldman's fight to regain custody of his young son Sean, who had been taken to Brazil by his mother and not returned. After years and wins and losses in the Brazilian court system and immense international pressure, Brazil released Sean to his father on Christmas Eve last year.

A State Department official told that while they could not comment on Birotte's case specifically, the agency has a history of working with the Brazil Central Authority to locate American children that disappear in that country.

The U.S. Embassy in Brazil was on holiday and couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Birotte's plight has exploded into a media firestorm in Brazil where Caldeira is a decorated volleyball player with more than 200 medals to her name, including Olympic bronze from the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Birotte said he's been told that her picture, his picture and images of their son have been splashed on the front page of every major newspaper and on television news.

"They already warned me that when I get off the plane the Brazil Central Authority is going to be there and the representative from the embassy along with security is going to be there," he said.

American Father: No Indication Wife Would Kidnap Child

This was not the life Birotte imagined when he met Caldeira in Las Vegas several years ago. He was working as a chef at Cesear's Palace. She was on vacation with friends and stopped him for directions as he was headed into a Vegas club.

They were married in December 2004. Kelvin Jr. was born the following summer.

"We traveled back and forth several times to Brazil," Birotte said. "We had his baptism and christening there."

Cracks began to form in the marriage. She was upset that he didn't drink, he said, and that his long hours as a chef kept him away from home for too long. But Birotte said he never imagined she'd kidnap their child.

In April 2006, Birotte said he signed paperwork authorizing Caldeira, who was in the U.S. on a temporary green card, to take Kelvin Jr. to Brazil for three months to visit her family.

When he spoke to her in June, nearly a month before they were to return to Las Vegas, Caldeira said she needed more time in Brazil, in part to help care of her ailing siblings.

"She said she needed to stay longer, that she wasn't going to make it back," he said. "I wanted her to come back for his birthday."

He contacted a lawyer and also the Brazilian embassy. The embassy, he said, urged him to give her the time she wanted.

But that time, he said, was used to allow Caldeira to keep Kelvin in the country for four months, the amount of time the government requires to establish residency for a child of a Brazilian parent. Kelvin was officially made a Brazilian citizen in October 2006.

Birotte was floored. He left his job at Cesear's Palace and broke his lease in Las Vegas and moved back to his native Houston to be closer to the U.S. side of the investigation since that's where Caldeira flew out of on her way to Brazil.

He's back to working as a chef, but told his employer early on that he may need to leave the U.S. at a moment's notice to get his son.

Birotte Case Similar to Goldman Custody Battle

The last time Birotte saw Kelvin was in 2007 when Kelvin was about 19 months old when Birotte flew to Brazil for a court hearing.

"The first couple of hours he was kind of scared," Birotte said.

So, Birotte said, he sang to him just like he used to when he would come home from work.

"You're my angel, You're my angel," Birotte sang. "He remembered that and he's like 'Papa, Papa' and he ran and gave me a hug."

He tried to return again, but Caldeira blocked him, demanding money in exchange for his son, something the U.S. goverment advised him he could not do without making it look like he agreed to her keeping him in Brazil.

And the close relationship Birotte enjoyed with Caldeira's family quickly disintegrated when he refused to let the boy stay in Brazil without a fight.

Instead, Birotte sent his son clothing and bottles of a milk substitute since regular milk made him sick.

Birotte said he expects to stay in Brazil at least through Monday.