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Father claims mother is anxious to sell their baby

They share concern for newborn

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Francisco Vidal's girlfriend told him the baby she was carrying was his, but she didn't want it, so she was either going to abort it or sell it.

As the pregnancy progressed and she got specific about the selling price -- $3,000 -- Vidal, a Cuban immigrant who works as a dishwasher at Houlihan's in Station Square, said he grew increasingly scared. This was, after all, a woman who had none of her first five children, who claimed the three youngest had been kidnapped and who frequently changed her name.

So when Francisco Vidal Jr. was born eight days ago, his father told a Magee-Womens Hospital social worker about the mother's threat, and the hospital called the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families.

As a result, the case landed before Common Pleas Judge Kim Clark. The mother, Elissia Donna Scotio, a native of Philadelphia, didn't show up for the hearing yesterday in juvenile court. But Clark took her threat seriously, giving the father temporary custody and arranging for a Spanish-speaking lawyer to explain to him how to file for permanent custody.

Clark said later that she believed the baby may be in peril simply because that is what the father perceived. And, she said, "the fact that no one knows where her other children are and she won't tell gives it some credibility."

Shortly after Scotio delivered the healthy 6-pound, 11-ounce boy May 12, she left the hospital. She would tell a caseworker later that she'd gone to get something to eat because she didn't like the hospital food. But she didn't return, not even when her baby was about to be discharged. So Magee sent the baby home with his father.

Vidal, who is 43 and fled Cuba during the Mariel boat lift in 1980, was glad to have his son but told the CYF caseworker he remained fearful Scotio would try to seize and sell the baby.

When the caseworker finally tracked down the mother, she came away with some concerns of her own. Scotio repeated the claim that her three youngest children had been kidnapped, and she refused to disclose where the older two were. Vidal believes they might be living with their father, but he's not sure and doesn't have the man's name.

The caseworker consulted the assistant county solicitor, Jack McVay, about the case, and he insisted on bringing it before a judge. He could have simply directed Vidal to petition the judges who handle custody in divorce matters, but he was concerned about how quickly Vidal could accomplish that because of his difficulty with English. And, McVay said, he's not sure if the baby-selling and kidnapping allegations are true, but anytime he hears that sort of allegation, he's just more comfortable if a judge hears the case.

Neither he nor Clark had ever had a case before in which a price had been placed on a baby's head.

Clark gave the father temporary custody and permitted visits by the mother only when supervised by CYF. Then she had a clerk call Rita Murillo, a public defender who the judge knew to be fluent in Spanish. Murillo explained to Vidal what had happened and what he needed to do to seek permanent custody.

After the hearing yesterday, Vidal found Scotio wandering homeless in Market Square. He gave her the key to his apartment in Homestead. He and the baby will stay with friends. He said he couldn't abandon the child's mother:

"I need to be a good father. If my kid finds out I am a bad man to his mother, he will feel I am wrong. I do not want that."

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