Police trying to decipher curious case of Tabata's wife

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Pirates prospect Jose Tabata says he was "hurt, frustrated and confused" when he learned of an alleged baby snatching incident that unfolded over the past few days that led to the arrest of his wife, a woman twice his age with a criminal past and several aliases.

Mr. Tabata, an outfielder and shining prospect whom members of Pirates management talk about some day playing in Pittsburgh for 20 years, isn't implicated in the child-abduction case for which his wife was arrested and jailed yesterday in Tampa. Her bail was set at $750,000.

Mr. Tabata, 20, is "not a suspect by any means," said Plant City, Fla., Police Sgt. David Millich, the investigating detective in the events that led to missing 2-month-old Sandra Cruz-Francisco winding up in the arms of Amalia Tabata Pereira, 43, who turned her over to police Tuesday afternoon. "I can tell you from our case here in Plant City, he's not a suspect."

Ms. Pereira was "just somebody he happened to be married to," Sgt. Millich added.

She was transferred from Manatee County authorities to the Hillsborough County Jail -- Plant City is located in that county -- yesterday afternoon following a morning hearing in Bradenton before a circuit judge.

After an anonymous call was made to the Manatee County Sheriffs Department early Tuesday afternoon about the statewide Amber Alert, she met police and turned over the missing child in the parking lot of the El Conquistador Village Plaza. The strip mall is just a few blocks down 34th Street West from the Mirror Lake apartments where she rented a condominium for the past month -- while her husband of 14 months went through spring training with the Pirates and, after being sent down to minor-league camp, for the past week with Class AA Altoona in Pirate City. Because she fit the description from Plant City police, sheriffs department spokesman Dave Bristow said, she was immediately arrested.

According to police, Ms. Pereira came to Plant City, 56 miles northeast of Bradenton, Monday and identified herself as "Janet," an agent with the federal immigration service. She told farm worker Rosa Sirilo-Francisco inside the Plant City Health Department that she and her husband, Andres Cruz, were in danger of being deported unless they handed over the baby.

Ms. Pereira's relatives told Tampa-area news agencies that she is a mother of four who was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Chicago and moved to West Tampa about two decades ago. She spent two years and nine months in a Florida state prison stemming from a 1999 incident in which she was accused of stealing $20,000 from a Paycheck Advance where she worked in the Temple Terrace neighborhood north of Tampa, then staging a fire at the business to conceal the theft, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

She and Mr. Tabata, then 19Â 1/2 and having just completed a season with Class A Tampa in the New York Yankees organization, were wed in January 2008 at a check-cashing and tax outlet called Amscot, the Times reported.

She also has known aliases such as Amalia Segui and Amalia Maldonado. As far as Manatee authorities know, she had no record in the county, Mr. Bristow said, "But she had so many aliases, it's kind of tough to check." In the Pirates media guide, she is identified as Mayita Tabata.

"I am hurt, frustrated, and confused by her actions," Mr. Tabata, a Venezuela native acquired by the Pirates last July in the deadline trade with the Yankees for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, said in a statement released by Pirates officials. "I have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials in any way that I can. Until I have all of the facts, I cannot comment any further."

Mr. Bristow said Mr. Tabata came to the sheriffs' south Bradenton headquarters "shortly after this ordeal started" late Tuesday afternoon to answer questions from officers, with a Spanish-speaking officer present because the player has some difficulty with English. Mr. Bristow declined to say how long officers interviewed Mr. Tabata or what information he imparted, though by all accounts it helped to exonerate him.

"The Manatee County Sherriff's Office confirmed with us [Tuesday] night that Jose was in no way involved in his wife's alleged kidnapping of an infant girl," Pirates President Frank Coonelly said in a statement released yesterday. "Jose was as shocked as the rest of us upon hearing the news and has cooperated fully with law enforcement officials. The Pirates organization will continue to do anything and everything we can to assist and support Jose during this difficult personal time."

Mr. Tabata was given a couple of days off by the team. He stayed at Pirate City, where he reportedly spent a sleepless night Tuesday.

He wasn't seen around the Mirror Lake apartments where several Pirates historically have stayed, along with some members of the Pittsburgh media covering the team. Then again, to manager Kimberly Light, Ms. Pereira wasn't seen around there, either.

"It was a weird deal," Mr. Bristow said of a case in which Manatee authorities weren't involved until Tuesday's anonymous call and parking-lot meeting with Ms. Pereira. "We thought it was another crank [call] or whatever, but you never know ... you take them seriously. And there she was, holding the baby. It got a little stranger when the Pirates player came into the equation."

Mr. Bristow added that he noticed her date of birth, and then realized that she was roughly twice Mr. Tabata's age. "Again, that's another aspect of why this case was a little strange," he said.

Ms. Pereira rented a condo from an owner, whose name hasn't been revealed, without that owner asking for permission from the Mirror Lake's board or having her complete the requisite paperwork, where her criminal record would have raised a red flag, said both Ms. Light and the board president, Char-Lez Braden.

"She was renting there against the rules," Ms. Braden said.

"We are just as much unfortunately at a loss for information," Ms. Light said. She had no idea when Ms. Pereira moved into the furnished condo -- most rent for between $750 and $1,500 per month, though short-stay residents such as Pirates players may pay up to $2,500 per month -- to join her husband, who reported to spring training Feb. 17. "Until [Wednesday], we never knew they existed. This is shocking to us as well."

Mirror Lake, she said, has been home to Pirates players in the past without incident or problem. "We might see them driving in, and we might see them driving out. That was the extent of it," Ms. Light added, declining to name players.

Matt Myers, 19, a transplant from Akron, Ohio, never knew police were at the complex the night before or anything about an Amber Alert abduction.

"I've seen a couple [Pirates] here -- as far as I know, two of them are living here," Mr. Myers said. "I don't know their names."

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com


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