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Missing Sabrina St. Petersburg Times

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Missing Sabrina St. Petersburg Times

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:20

Missing Sabrina

Marlene and Steve Aisenberg, with attorney Barry Cohen, avoided the grand jury on Feb. 5, but still are facing the court of public opinion since the disappearance of their baby in November 1997. (Times photo)
On Nov. 24, 1997, Steve and Marlene Aisenberg reported their infant girl missing from her crib in their Brandon home. In the weeks following the disappearance, the couple began a high-profile journey through the national spotlight, looking for any help in finding young Sabrina. Their story has created a media circus around them, and stirred the suspicions of local authorities.

Here’s the story so far, from the pages of the St. Petersburg Times:
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Re: Missing Sabrina St. Petersburg Times

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:20

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Infant disappears from her crib

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 1997

Steve and Marlene Aisenberg felt so safe in their cookie cutter house at the end of a Brandon cul-de-sac, they often slept with the garage door up and the windows wide open.

At midnight Sunday, Mrs. Aisenberg checked on 5-month-old Sabrina, a chubby baby with a cap of black hair. She was in her crib.

Just before 7 a.m. Monday, when she checked on her daughter again, the crib was empty. Somehow, deputies said, someone kidnapped Sabrina during the night without waking her parents, her siblings, ages 8 and 4, or Brownie, the family's lively shepherd mix who slept inside the single-story stucco house.

Sabrina's parents called 911, then ran to a neighbor's home.

"My baby's gone, my baby's gone," Mrs. Aisenberg told next-door neighbor Marti Jones, who answered her door just after 7 a.m. Jones said Mrs. Aisenberg, 35, was frantic.

Marlene Aisenberg's father immediately offered a $5,000 reward for the baby's safe return, but the day wore on with few leads. Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown said detectives found none of the usual trails to follow: There was no ransom note, no witnesses, no signs of forced entry, no obvious family custody issues. The couple moved to Brandon in 1991 from Maryland and are considered good, caring parents by their neighbors.

Brown said there were no identified suspects in the case.

"In my wildest imagination I can't believe these parents had anything to do with it," Jones said.

Sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. Monday, her husband, Charles, was awakened by their two dogs, who sleep in cages in the garage.

"I heard my little dog. They really weren't barking real, real loud. I got up, I looked around the house real quick and went back to bed," said Charles Jones. He noticed that Brownie wasn't barking next door.

Like other neighbors interviewed, he worried that the Aisenbergs didn't lock their garage and often slept with their front windows protected only by a screen. Neighbors said they had called the couple in the past to remind them to shut their garage. Sheriff's officials would not say whether any other doors in the home were unlocked Monday morning.

Rabbi Marc Sack, who met the Aisenbergs after they joined Congregation Rodeph Shalom earlier this year, spent about 30 minutes with the family Monday afternoon, as they waited at a neighbor's home for word of their daughter. He said they did not wish to speak to reporters.

Later Monday night, however, the Aisenbergs made an emotional plea for the safe return of their daughter.

"This morning, someone came into our home, and took our baby Sabrina Paige, out of her crib and took her out of our home," Marlene Aisenberg said in a videotaped statement, her husband at her side. "I'm begging that person to please bring our baby back to us."

She said the little girl knows her family and they miss her and love her.

"And we need her to come home to us, please," Marlene Aisenberg said. "And I'm just begging that you please bring her home to her family."

Sheriff's deputies impounded the Aisenbergs' two vehicles Monday, after dusting the driver's side and trunk of the couple's silver Cadillac. The car had been parked in the open garage beside a jumble of children's equipment: their son's bike, their daughter, Monica's, two-wheeler with pink training wheels and an umbrella stroller. Deputies also took a white Mercury Villager van, which had been parked in the driveway overnight.

"We don't know what the suspect touched. We have to look at every possibility," he said.

Also described as routine was an interview with both parents at the Sheriff's Office that began after 2 p.m. and continued into the night before the Aisenbergs and investigators returned to the couple's home. Brown said the parents were being questioned in an effort to produce leads.

Sabrina, who was born June 27 at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital, was wearing a lavender one-piece pajama outfit with a pink, yellow and lavender floral band around the middle. Also missing was a yellow, handmade blanket with animal designs, Brown said.

The family videotaped Sabrina for the first time Sunday, just hours before she disappeared, and shared the tape with reporters. Marlene Aisenberg pointed the video camera at the baby, who balanced in a crawling position and looked into the lens. Off-camera, Mrs. Aisenberg narrated.

"Sabrina's crawling and she's almost 5 months old! This is our first time taping her. . . . Sabrina, come crawl to Mommy. C'mere, gorgeous!"

The baby rolled onto her back on the green carpet, wiggled her legs in the air, and played contentedly with her toes, as her mother encouraged her.

"Come here, gorgeous! Come here," she said.

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.
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Parents of missing infant hire lawyer

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:21

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1127lawyer.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 1997

The parents of a missing baby hired a high-profile defense attorney Wednesday after a lengthy grilling from authorities left them frightened and feeling suspect.

Marlene Aisenberg clutched a tissue and fought back tears as her husband, Steve, stood behind her and gently rubbed her shoulders in the office of lawyer Barry Cohen. On her brown sweater, the mother of three wore a gold pin with three tiny rhinestone dolls, one blue for her son, William, 8, and two pink for daughters Monica, 4, and Sabrina, the 5-month-old who vanished early Monday.

Mrs. Aisenberg reached up to clutch her husband's hand as Cohen spoke.
"When you have a high-profile case, people want to bring it to a conclusion. . . . When you're innocent, and you're not used to dealing with people like that, it's a little scary," said Cohen, who said his new clients were sent to him Wednesday morning by Rabbi Marc Sack, from Congregation Rodeph Shalom. Both Cohen and the Aisenberg family belong to the conservative South Tampa temple.

Cohen said the family intends to continue cooperating with authorities, who say they have no leads in the case. Sheriff's officials searched the family's home again Wednesday, and a search of trash bins, storm sewers and three ponds near the home failed to turn up clues. Meanwhile, more than 100 neighbors and supporters gathered for a prayer vigil Wednesday night at a Bloomingdale shopping center.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the infant's grandmother said she turned to a psychic for tips.

"I'm just the grandmother, and I've had a very hard time with this," said Joan Sadowsky, who pleaded for Sabrina's safe return during an interview with WTVT-Ch. 13. She said the psychic told them the baby was kidnapped by a man and a skinny blond woman in a red pickup truck.

"Please, help us get that baby back," she said.

The Aisenbergs' next-door neighbor, Marti Jones, was startled to hear about the tip. Her husband, Chuck, had been working in the yard Saturday, prior to the kidnapping and noticed a red pickup turning in the cul-de-sac in front of their home. He did not recognize the truck and could not identify the driver, she said.

Cohen, who said he puts no faith in psychics, declined to comment.

The Aisenbergs turned to Cohen after questioning late Tuesday by FBI agents and sheriff's detectives made them feel they were being looked at as suspects in the disappearance, Cohen said. Increasingly, investigators and observers have commented on Marlene Aisenbergs' composure, and the fleeting smiles captured by television cameras when she was taken for questioning Tuesday night.

"This is a very traumatic thing for Marlene and Steve. People react to stress differently," Cohen said.

Neither Cohen nor sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown would say whether the couple was given a polygraph test Tuesday night. The Aisenbergs were taken in an unmarked sheriff's car to the criminal investigation office where polygraph equipment is kept, and they were questioned rigorously.

"It was aggressive enough to cause them concern," Cohen said. "Especially for someone who feels they've done nothing wrong."

Cohen thanked authorities, neighbors and the media for the efforts to find Sabrina, who was last seen by her mother at about midnight Sunday. Just before 7 a.m. Monday, Mrs. Aisenberg peeked in on her daughter and discovered an empty crib. She called 911.

Robert Chiaradao, FBI acting special agent in charge, would not comment on reports that the 911 tape has been sent to Quantico, Va., for processing.

Also appearing at the 3 p.m. news conference in Cohen's Tampa office were Mrs. Aisenberg's father, Stan Sadowsky, and Steve's brother, David, and his wife, Kathy Guilfoyle. Both are lawyers, and they also encouraged the Aisenbergs to hire a professional to represent them, Cohen said.

The family did not comment Wednesday, even when directly questioned by reporters. They appeared uncomfortable under the scrutiny of cameras and reporters who have been camped out in front of their Bloomingdale home since Monday morning. At the family's request, the media has refrained from photographing either of the couple's two young children. Cohen said they have met with their rabbi through the ordeal and find strength in the support of family, neighbors and each other.

"Fortunately, they have a loving marriage, and they've been very, very close," Cohen said.

Cohen asked reporters and the public to keep the incident from turning into a media event and said he did not want his retention to create "an inference" in the public's mind. The Aisenbergs plan to spend a quiet Thanksgiving as a family, praying for the safe return of their child, he said.

Later Wednesday, more than 100 people took a break from their own Thanksgiving preparations to gather at a prayer vigil for the family, holding candles and singing hymns in the back corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

"These are people just like you and me," said resident Gina Kent, who expressed concern about those who would cast doubt on the family's story. "I'm thinking somebody stole the baby for money. A 5-month-old baby brings money in the world today, sick as it is."

Kari Shepard, 16, of Brandon said she recently made a new friend through her computer who lives near the Aisenbergs.

"I just wanted to show whoever did this . . . that what they did is definitely not right, and it hurts a lot of people," she said. "It's really scary to think that a child in your care, especially your own, can be just torn away from you."

-- Times staff writer Linda Chion-Kenney contributed to this story.
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Missing girl's family turns to national TV

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:22

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1202Missing_girl.html

By KATHRYN WEXLER and MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 1997

BRANDON -- The extended family of a missing 5-month girl pleaded on national television Monday night for her kidnapper not to harm her over a grudge the kidnapper might harbor against her parents.

At times fighting back tears, Stan Sadowsky and Elaine Weinberger, the baby's maternal grandfather and aunt, talked on CNN's Larry King Live show about the mysterious disappearance.

"We're just asking whoever has this baby, whatever money they're asking for, we will give you more," Sadowsky said to the camera. "Whatever the reason, if you had an anger against (parents) Molly or Steve, don't take it out on the baby."

Sabrina vanished from her Brandon home on Nov. 24. Marlene Aisenberg said she checked on her infant daughter in her crib around midnight, then discovered her missing at 6:42 in the morning. The family had left the garage door open during the night, and authorities said the door leading into the home was unlocked. Neither the family dog nor Sabrina's two siblings took notice of any intruder.

Barry Cohen, a high-profile Tampa attorney representing Sabrina's parents, said he made the decision that they shouldn't appear on the television program Monday night. The ordeal has left the couple too fragile, he said.

"They're not emotionally available," Cohen said. "These people are totally traumatized by this and they're in no position or condition to deal with the public clamor."

When Sabrina disappeared, some speculated that her parents might be implicated. But authorities on Monday said Sabrina's disappearance is being treated as a kidnapping and that they don't think her parents are involved.

"No, they are not suspects," Lt. Greg Brown, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, told host Larry King during the program.

"The parents are the victims and they have more information of who may have done this than anyone else. So that's the reason for extensive interviews with them," Brown said during the program.

Marlene and Steve Aisenberg have declined to meet directly with reporters to discuss their daughter's kidnapping. They released a home video the night she disappeared, appealing for her return. And they appeared at a press conference last Wednesday at Cohen's office, but did not speak.

At an afternoon news conference in Tampa, Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives Monday appealed to the public for fresh clues. With few leads and no suspects, their latest hope is that someone has noticed the sudden appearance of a dark-haired, blue-eyed, 5-month-old baby in the home of a neighbor, friend or relative.

"Maybe a family member saw a child they hadn't seen before," said sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry, who said he remains optimistic despite the paucity of information. "Maybe someone is telling someone they've adopted a child."

Detectives have received 65 leads in a case being worked by up to 40 agents from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI. They responded to some tips from people who thought they saw the Aisenberg baby, and deputies on Monday continued to canvass the Aisenberg's Bloomingdale neighborhood. Meanwhile, Terry said some evidence was taken from the home, but he would not elaborate.

Another guest on Larry King Live, former FBI agent Gregg McCrary, said the kidnapper is probably not after ransom money, since no contact had been made with Sabrina's family. More likely, he said, a woman stole the baby and intends to keep her. About 95 percent of such cases get solved, he said.

After a couple of Florida callers to the show asked about Marlene Aisenberg's on-camera demeanor just after the infant vanished, Weinberger begged people not to judge her sister on her "stoic" appearance. Both McCrary and Brown backed her point, saying people react differently when they're traumatized.

"She didn't look anything like herself," Weinberger said. "The stress of the day, the shock of the day, really affected her."
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Neighbors suffer with loss of baby

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:23

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1203neighbors.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 1997

From the first, when Sabrina Aisenberg was little more than a mother's dearest wish, Judy Bailey was a part of her life story.

Marlene Aisenberg suspected she was pregnant with a much-wanted third child. It was her friend Judy who urged her to use the extra home pregnancy kit she had stowed in a cabinet. It was Judy who answered the door the next day to find a hopeful Marlene, waving a kit with the faintest pink line.

"I don't know, Mar, it looks pretty good to me," Bailey said.

Marlene Aisenberg was at the heart of a circle of seven young mothers, all of them raising families in a new neighborhood built from swamps and cow pastures, and her pregnancy was theirs to celebrate. The women jostled to give her a baby shower. They took turns helping Marlene run her play school and marveled at her energy weeks after Sabrina's June 27 birth as she sang and danced and tumbled on brightly colored mats with a jumble of 2-year-olds.

Baby Sabrina, watching the games from a car seat, was the other children's baby, too.

She vanished from her home Nov. 24, leaving Bailey and the other mothers struggling to explain to their children, and themselves, how a baby could disappear.

"They didn't just take a baby. They took the life out of the Aisenberg family and everyone who knew Steve and Marlene. There's a ripple. Basically, they have taken a baby from an entire community," Bailey said Tuesday.

She spoke in the hope that her message will reach whoever took 5-month-old Sabrina from her crib and that they will bring her home; that they will understand the damage they've done to the parents and their other children, William, 8, and Monica, 4.

"You can't imagine the pain she's in. I've seen her, and it's not the same Marlene," Bailey said. "I want them to know what they've done. It's damaged their lives forever. William and Monica's lives will not be the same. They're going to be afraid in their own home."

Life has been permanently changed on Colusa Way and Springville Drive and Warmspring Way, where the builders supplied alarm systems that many new homeowners, including the Aisenbergs, never bothered to connect. What could possibly happen in a neighborhood so secluded that even friends needed a road map to navigate the gently winding labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets?

The answer, as it turns out, is the unthinkable.

The kidnapping of Sabrina, taken from her crib while her parents slept, has shattered every sense of security, down to the littlest child, Bailey said. William Aisenberg worried that whoever stole his sister could come back and take him, too. Sabrina slept in his old room.

"I'm not going to let anything happen to you," his mother told him, then told her friend how she grappled with the horrible truth behind that promise.

Judy Bailey's daughter, Amy, played with Monica Aisenberg last week. She could hear them play a make-believe game of looking for a missing puppy. It became a game of looking for lost babies. Then they searched the Baileys' house for Sabrina.

Bailey met Marlene Aisenberg four years ago, when she was pushing her daughter's stroller. She had a vivid first impression of a bubbly, energetic woman with a tumble of soft brown curls. Marlene was waving a flier, announcing Playtime Pals. It was a play group for moms and toddlers, a natural venture for an early-childhood education major whose life revolved around children. Mrs. Aisenberg is a confident and loving parent, her friends said, a mom so devoted to the creativity of childhood that she let children play with magic markers inside her house.

"There's a way about her," Bailey said. "She's able to get kids involved and get them to feel good about themselves."

Dozens of friendships among the suburban mothers developed at the play school, including the bond between the women in Bailey's circle. They shared a ladies night out, when husbands stayed with the kids and mothers ate dinner out or shopped at the Brandon mall. They were in and out of each other's homes, none more than a few blocks apart. When Sabrina disappeared, Marlene called Judy after notifying the Sheriff's Office.

"Sabrina's gone. Someone took her from her crib," she said, as Judy struggled to comprehend. "I just had to call. I had to tell someone."

The pain only has been amplified by suggestions that the Aisenbergs were responsible for their child's abduction because they were caught smiling by television cameras. Sheriff's officials have since said they are treating the case as a kidnapping and don't consider the parents suspects.

Bailey, who spoke to the Times Tuesday on behalf of the women's group, said the Aisenbergs are loving parents. Steve Aisenberg, who sells new homes, insisted on spending time with the family when he was off work. No one knew of any enemies. No one could imagine that either parent could harm a child.

As she spoke, her telephone rang repeatedly with calls from other mothers, asking for news, looking for fliers to post, seeking support through a crisis that has no foreseeable conclusion. A sheriff's patrol car remains outside the Aisenberg home, and an FBI agent has been stationed inside around the clock. A plea from sheriff's investigators and Marlene's father on Larry King Live Monday brought in 23 leads, but none have produced results. Sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry was scheduled to appear on Dateline NBC Tuesday, and Lt. Greg Brown, the sheriff's spokesman, was interviewed by MSNBC and Inside Edition, as the story attracts more national interest.

Meanwhile, the friends take turns sitting with the family. Albertsons sent over a Thanksgiving dinner and has supplied daily meals. The toddlers at the play school have asked for Miss Marlene. "Where's baby?" they ask.

The adults grieve for the transformation in both Steve and Marlene Aisenberg.

"She's just a zombie, living moment to moment, waiting for the phone to ring," Bailey said. "I just want to take the pain away from her, and there's nothing I can do.

"All I can do is pray and look at every baby that passes by."
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Rumor mill churns about missing baby

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:24

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1204Rumor.html

Times staff writer

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 4, 1997

BRANDON -- Rumors seemed to take on a life of their own and fill the void Wednesday in the absence of any new developments in the disappearance of 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg.

The media bombarded the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office with questions after an unfounded report circulated among the public that the infant had been recovered. There were so many calls, authorities were prompted to make an official statement: "The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office would like to eliminate any rumors that 5-month-old Sabrina Paige Aisenberg has been found. These are totally unfounded and have absolutely no validity whatsoever."

Among the rumors dismissed Wednesday was that Sabrina was sold on the black market for $80,000, that gambling was involved and that the dark-haired infant was simultaneously discovered in Puerto Rico, Lakeland, Ruskin and Israel.

Kevin Kalwary, an investigator for Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen, who is representing Sabrina's parents, dismissed the reports and said Steve and Marlene Aisenberg spent the day working with FBI and sheriff's investigators.

"We've heard all of the reports that have been going around, and they range from arrests being made, to the baby being discovered at a pediatrician's office, to a mother in Puerto Rico admitting to buying the baby. As far as we know, they're all false. We spent the day as we've spent every other day, cooperating with detectives on the case," Kalwary said.
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Search for Sabrina returns to pond

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:25



Times staff writer

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 1997

BRANDON -- Divers from three agencies joined the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office dive team Friday to scour the edges of a large pond just south of the neighborhood from which Sabrina Aisenberg vanished Nov. 24.

Dive team members make several search passes in a pond,just north of where 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg was found missing. The pond is the closest one to the Aisenberg residence.
(Times photo: Aimee Jeansonne)
It was their second search of the pond that failed to provide any leads into the disappearance of the 5-month-old daughter of Steve and Marlene Aisenberg. About 25 divers, from the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties sheriff's departments, were involved in the all-day search.

"We asked for assistance because it's such a large area," said sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown.

Meanwhile, Tampa attorney Barry Cohen on Friday continued to direct the Aisenbergs to decline to be interviewed. The couple videotaped a statement the night after their daughter disappeared in which they pleaded for her safe return, but have made no other public comments.

Cohen said he could not say how long an FBI agent would remain inside the Aisenberg home, or when a sheriff's patrol car would end its vigil outside the home. The house, in a Bloomingdale subdivision, continues to be surrounded in yellow crime scene tape.

While that has been "pretty tough" on the Aisenberg family, Cohen said he felt the authorities were acting reasonably.

"Everybody's got to be suspect. Whatever they do is within reason. It's responsible," he said.
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Search for baby focuses on river

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:25

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1212River.html

By RICHARD DANIELSON

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 12, 1997

BRANDON -- What is probably the largest search of its kind ever in Hillsborough County, and perhaps one of the biggest in Florida history, moved Thursday to the banks of the Alafia River.

But investigators still turned up no trace of baby Sabrina Aisenberg.

The river had been on the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's list of areas to search, but a tip generated from the television show America's Most Wanted focused authorities' interest on a particular boat ramp.

Sheriff's officials who combed the banks and a 2-mile stretch of the river found lots of dead fish from a weekend acid spill but "no evidence that would help the investigation," Lt. Stan Doss said.

Sabrina vanished from her parents' suburban home Nov. 24, setting off an investigation that has captured national attention, including a segment Dec. 7 on America's Most Wanted.

WTVT-Ch. 13 reported Thursday that one tip generated by that show concerned a man and woman reportedly seen getting out of a white van at the Center Avenue boat ramp with what appeared to be a baby, walking to the river and returning without the baby.

Sheriff's officials would not, however, discuss the content of the tip.

"We received about 80 tips from that show," sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown said. "One of them led us to an area on the river by a boat ramp. We're not going to get into what leads we have as far as what are the details. In addition to going in a lot of directions, we're searching that area also."

Arthur Cuscaden, who has lived next to the boat ramp since the mid-1960s, said neither he nor his wife had seen the kind of activity reportedly included in the tip.

Cuscaden, 56, did note that in good weather the boat ramp stays active all day and night, which could make it difficult for anyone to come and go without someone noticing. Neighbors come down to fish at night, teenagers hang out to drink beer, and in the 1970s drug dealers even did business there, he said.

"I've complained for years about it," he said of the activity. "I've finally given up."

Divers are not expected to begin a search of the river's bottom before Monday, Doss said. Today, sheriff's officials will meet to discuss just how much farther the search will go.

Thanks to help from law enforcement agencies from as far away as Miami-Dade and Lake counties, deputies will have walked nearly four square miles around the Aisenbergs' home and covered at least a dozen ponds by this weekend. Doss said the goal has been to search every pond next to any road leading from the Aisenbergs' neighborhood.

Thursday's effort involved 160 people, 91 divers or dive-support personnel and another 70 walking the ground. As one set of agencies drops off the search and others join, the search today is expected to include about 70 people.
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Parents make a plea for Sabrina's return

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:26

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1224Plea.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 1997

TAMPA -- The parents of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg made an emotional plea Tuesday for the return of the child they call "our little princess."

In a prepared speech delivered at their attorney's downtown Tampa office, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg asked whoever has 6-month-old Sabrina to return her to her family.

"The hole in our family right now is very large," said Steve Aisenberg, as he offered to find legal aid and seek leniency for his daughter's kidnapper. Sabrina vanished Nov. 24 from the crib in her parents' Bloomingdale home. The garage door had been left open, and an interior door was unlocked.

The Aisenbergs' plea came at a news conference that included sharp questions for their attorney, Barry Cohen, about his cooperation with sheriff's officials. Authorities say Cohen has refused to let them question his clients about their conduct until he is provided with copies of reports, memorandums and recordings taken before his involvement in the case. Cohen was hired two days after the baby vanished and the morning after the Aisenbergs underwent a tough grilling from detectives.

"This is hampering one aspect of the investigation," said sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown, who would not elaborate.

Cohen, who has tightly controlled media and law enforcement access to the couple, said he was cooperating fully. He also bristled in a brief exchange with a television reporter over an MSNBC report that wrongly identified a laughing sheriff's detective as Mrs. Aisenberg. That moment spawned speculation about the Aisenbergs' demeanor and its significance, but Cohen insisted Tuesday his client had remained somber on camera.

The reporter reminded Cohen that Sabrina's parents smiled as they left their home Nov. 25 with detectives. Cohen said their reactions were in response to signs of support from neighbors and a male detective's joke about running down a television cameraman.

Steve Aisenberg, who has remained publicly stoic through the ordeal, maintained his composure Tuesday as he calmly asked for Sabrina's return.

"When your 4-year-old little daughter comes up to you and tells you that her heart is breaking, how do you comfort her?" Aisenberg said, as his wife, sobbing but dry-eyed, shook uncontrollably beside him. "When your 8-year-old son asks when is the next time he can see his little sister smile at him as she crawls toward him, what do you say? When your loving wife wonders aloud how can this happen to us, how do you give her the strength and the hope for the future?"

They think whoever took Sabrina remains in the Tampa Bay area and will see this plea, Cohen said. He said they can't support that theory with facts but consider it most probable because the couple has no enemies, debts or ransom note.

"So many women came in contact with this baby as a result of Marlene's work," Cohen said, refering to the Playtime Pals preschool classes she runs in a converted private home near Brandon High School. "Someone saw this baby, and someone took this baby because they wanted this baby."

The appearance before the local media was only the couple's second since Sabrina vanished and the first in which the Aisenbergs spoke. They also released a videotape the night the search began, in which Mrs. Aisenberg tearfully pleaded for her baby's safe return. In another appearance at Cohen's office Nov. 26, the couple stayed silently on the sidelines as Cohen spoke on their behalf. Cohen said their silence has been his decision, made because "there's nothing else to say."

"I think people know and can see these people are in a great deal of pain," Cohen said. "I think they're doing as much as they can to find their daughter."
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Polygraph expert believes baby's parents

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:26

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/0108Polygraph.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 1998

TAMPA -- The former FBI agent whose polygraph examination helped clear Richard Jewell in the Olympic bombing case concluded after 11 hours of questioning that the parents of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg were not involved in her disappearance.

Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen said he sent Marlene and Steve Aisenberg for the private polygraph tests recently to counter sporadic leaks to the media by sheriff's investigators suggesting the parents were involved in the disappearance. Sabrina, who would now be 6 months old, was reported missing from her crib Nov. 24.

"I was impressed. I like them," said Richard Rackleff, the former FBI polygraph examiner whose work eliminated Jewell in the bombing of Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. "Obviously, I don't think they have any involvement at all in any abduction. I think the baby's been snatched."

Rackleff, who charged $1,000 per day plus expenses, questioned Mrs. Aisenberg on Dec. 22 for six hours in a Tampa hotel room. He described the mother of three as a vibrant, disciplined woman who has been torn by her infant daughter's kidnapping and the subsequent public criticism questioning her role in the crime.

Her grief struck the experienced investigator as normal for an innocent victim.

"She lays awake nights and she worries about it every day," said Rackleff, who also spent more than five hours with Steve Aisenberg and determined his answers were truthful.

Cohen released the results of the tests at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in his Tampa office.

In an open letter to sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry, Cohen rejected published reports that the Aisenbergs have not cooperated with the investigation. The couple turned to him Nov. 26, after several intense interviews that led them to believe they were suspects in the case. Cohen has refused to let his clients answer questions about their conduct unless he is present, the sessions are tape recorded and he has copies of all notes taken by investigators in the first days of the case.

While saying he has respect for Terry, Cohen said he was alarmed by the lack of taped statements, and he believes some investigators are capable of doctoring handwritten notes in an attempt to distort statements made by the Aisenbergs.

Sheriff's officials don't plan to give Cohen the notes.

"A defense attorney is not privileged to open and ongoing case files," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown. "It's not something a sheriff's office would turn over to anyone."

Sheriff's officials, who have refused to discuss the case publicly, confirmed Wednesday the couple took three polygraph tests within two days after Sabrina was reported missing. Cohen said Mrs. Aisenberg was rushed to the Sheriff's Office on Nov. 25 for a second test after detectives learned she had scheduled a meeting with Cohen for the next day. Several media outlets subsequently reported Mrs. Aisenberg's test was inconclusive.

Brown would not discuss the findings.
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Living with doubt

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:27

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/0111Family.html
Seven weeks after Sabrina Aisenberg disappeared, her family clings to the hope that she will return as they struggle under intense scrutiny.

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 1998

BRANDON -- There is a gaping hole in the Aisenberg family, something so terrible that it makes the other indignities seem insignificant.

Their baby is gone.

That single fact, that Sabrina Paige disappeared seven weeks ago, is worse than the suspicions of sheriff's detectives or the media circus in front of their driveway. It has turned the family inside out: Marlene Aisenberg sobs in the solitude of her baby's room, seeking her child's scent in the unwashed folds of a pink dress. Steve Aisenberg was afraid to let his daughter, Monica, 4, ride her pink bike in the driveway because a TV reporter was watching. William, 8, thinks about his missing sister all the time.

"Especially at night, because I think somebody's coming in," he said. "That's when I sort of forget the policeman's outside."

That comment, from a boy who has never known grief, made Marlene Aisenberg burst into tears Saturday as the family sat around their dining room table.

"Don't cry," William pleaded. He hates when his mom cries, and lately, it happens a lot. "When she cries, I start to cry, too. It just gets sad. I get a little scared."

In two interviews in recent days with the Times at their home, the Aisenbergs spoke publicly for the first time about their ordeal, the search for their missing daughter and the struggle to keep life normal for their two older children.

They are a family in turmoil, but they also have hope.

Sabrina's six Hanukkah gifts are stored in their blue and silver wrapping paper at the top of the couple's closet. Her crib is with the FBI, but her bedroom is a maze of shower gifts and toys: her favorite polka dot rattle, Mrs. Aisenberg's girlhood dresser sponge-painted with pastel ferns and animals, the Sesame Street pop-up game that would be just right for a baby nearing 7 months.

That realization is one of the small cruelties that drains the light from Mrs. Aisenberg's eyes. She runs from the room, hysterical. She curls up on the white leather sofa, surrounded by Barbie dolls and shag pillows, and sobs.

"She's got to come home. I don't know how to think any other way," she says. Her husband, a quiet, stoic man, stands alone in the baby's room for a full minute. He appears to be composing himself before he follows her into the living room to softly rub her leg and whisper in her ear.

"She'll be home. She'll be home."

The public has known the Aisenbergs only from news reports. A suburban couple, rushed from their home Nov. 24 to an unmarked red sheriff's car on the 6 o'clock news. A deputy muttered to them and they smiled. The reporters speculated wildly on air that Sabrina had been found. Later, news trucks followed them to the Sheriff's Office, where they could be seen in a wing generally reserved for polygraph examinations. They hired a criminal defense lawyer with a pitbull reputation. They declined all interviews. They lived for seven weeks behind yellow crime scene tape, appearing publicly to make one plea for their daughter's return.

Hillsborough sheriff's officials said they have neither identified nor eliminated any suspects in Sabrina's disappearance and are treating the case as a kidnapping.

Privately, many in the community have speculated on the couple's guilt, while reporters and police have cited statistical reports that lay blame for most kidnappings on a relative. Like Kremlinologists, they rewound tapes of a news conference in which the parents pleaded for the baby's return and counted Mrs. Aisenberg's tears. The National Enquirer sent the veteran reporter who scored the first interview with Patsy Ramsey.

"We know we had nothing to do with this, so I can't watch that and worry about what people think about us," Mrs. Aisenberg said. "All I care about is getting Sabrina back. I can't worry about what they're saying out there."

Still, they say they find themselves in uncharted territory, trying to give William and Monica back their childhood while they remain the subjects of intense scrutiny. The children wanted to see Flubber at a Brandon theater, but a TV reporter had followed them earlier that day. The Aisenbergs worried: What if the reporter followed them inside the theater and saw them laughing?

"The perception would be, "Oh, they're off having a great old time, and their baby's gone,' " Mrs. Aisenberg said. They didn't go.

They are trying to figure out how to carry on without their baby, but even simple routines have become difficult. Steve Aisenberg returned to his sales job Friday morning at M/I Homes and found himself daydreaming about Sabrina during a staff meeting. "What am I doing here when my daughter's missing?" he asked himself.

Mrs. Aisenberg returned last week to the play school classes she runs and struggled as young children asked why they saw her crying on the television news.

"Are you sad? Is Sabrina home yet?"

"No, Sabrina isn't home yet, but I'm so happy to be with you," she told them.

During the recent heavy rains, she lay in bed remembering how once she could sleep peacefully in a rainstorm. Being at peace without Sabrina brings on waves of guilt, she says, and now sleep does not come easily.

"I'm nowhere who I used to be, this positive, perky person. Because I feel like I've had my life sucked out of me," she said. "I constantly feel melancholy, sad. I sit there and drive, and I'm in a daze."

This wasn't supposed to happen in their orderly lives. Until Nov. 23, the last time they saw Sabrina, the Aisenbergs were a family who had defined the boundary of their lives and lived within it. He sold new homes for M/I Homes, she spent 10 hours a week running Playtime Pals, a program for toddlers and their mothers.

She calls herself a "hands-on mom," a mother who makes homemade milkshakes and plays Barbie with her daughter, who turned her living room into a playroom and who stays with her 8-year-old son at birthday parties. Until Sabrina vanished, she was always home when William came home from school. Now, she spends hours with lawyers and detectives.

Recently, she told a friend over the telephone that she needed to spend more time with the children, despite the other demands.

"William heard it and started crying," Mrs. Aisenberg said. "I said "Why are you crying?' " He said: "Because I'm so happy you're going to do stuff with us again."

Marlene Sadowsky and Steve Aisenberg met during their junior year at the University of Maryland, and he immediately liked the former high school cheerleader for her bubbly personality, her smile, her outgoing manner. She noticed him flirting with another classmate and spurned his attention. One year later, during a party at his fraternity house, they met again.

Marlene, flirting with him as she sat in a circle with her friends, tried on the gold ring that has been passed down through three generations of Aisenberg men. She studied the small diamond and the embossed W and A, for William Aisenberg and handed it back. Steve noticed the band was cracked.

"Now you have to go out with me to get it fixed," he teased.

They were married in Maryland, under a simple white chuppah, and she wore a formal white dress with a wide train. They agreed on the most important goals of their lives. She would have at least three children and raise them in an observant Jewish home. He would be the kind of dad to make every soccer practice.

They followed her parents and sister, Elaine, to Tampa, excited at the chance to buy the kind of big house they could never afford in Maryland. By now, William was a toddler and Monica was on the way.

Sabrina Paige, named in memory of her great-grandparents Sylvia and Paul, was planned to arrive exactly four years after Monica. Marlene's mother, Joan Sadowsky, took her on a $500 shopping spree for a bassinet, stroller and toys.

"Everything had to be new!" Mrs. Sadowsky said.

Neither parent wanted to know the unborn baby's gender, because it didn't matter, they said. The children took sibling classes at University Community Hospital, where William learned to change diapers. He rooted for a brother.

"William saw her, he said "Mommy, it's okay she's not a boy. She's beautiful,' " Mrs. Aisenberg said.

She had one tiny flaw, a birthmark below her right shoulder that looked like an inverted Y. FBI agents withheld that information, but the family decided to release it Saturday in the hope it could speed her return.

Sabrina was her parents' idea of a perfect baby, they say, happy, quiet and with the big, blue eyes they had hoped for in one of their children. She slept through the night at 4 months and was starting to crawl when she vanished.

They took the baby everywhere: Universal Studios, the Dollar Store, carnivals at neighborhood elementary schools, to Steve Aisenberg's office, to Playtime Pals, where she sat in a car seat while the older children sang. One of her Hanukkah gifts was the pistachio-colored frog from FAO Schwartz, which her mother adopted as her play school's mascot.

When mothers came up to admire Sabrina, Mrs. Aisenberg always said the same thing: "She's such a good baby."

Now, she wonders if that wasn't an added enticement for whoever stole Sabrina.

On their last night as a whole family, they watched The Santa Clause and a Hallmark movie. Sabrina went to sleep about 8:30 p.m. Brownie, their 2-year-old mutt, scampered silently around the family room, the ever-present rubber tug toy in her mouth. The air conditioning was on, so they closed the sliding glass door they usually keep open so the dog can run into the back yard.

"And we went to sleep just like always, regular. And started a new day just like always. Regular," Mrs. Aisenberg said.

Before 7 a.m., she crossed the family room to wake William, then Monica. Usually, she could hear silvery bells from Sabrina's far room. The baby played with three bright fabric blocks that jingled when she shook them. Sabrina cooed and gurgled to herself, always contented, always the last stop in the morning routine.

That morning, there was silence.
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Aisenbergs win hearts, not minds

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:28

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/1209Aisenbergs.html

By MARY JO MELONE

İSt. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 1998

In the first days after the disappearance of the baby we all know now simply as Sabrina, her distraught parents took a clubbing from reporters.

The offense then was not talking to us.

The silence of Marlene and Steve Aisenberg was presumed to suggest guilt. Worse yet, the silence was inconvenient to reporters, who needed something new every day. The sausage machine that is daily journalism had to be fed.

Now it's been fed. You could even say we reporters have stuffed ourselves on the Aisenbergs. Through arrangements made by their lawyer, Barry Cohen, they have finally given interviews to the Times, the Tampa Tribune, local TV, even the networks in New York, including the NBC trifecta of Today, Dateline and MSNBC.

As a result, what follows will sound ungrateful to anybody who subscribes to the view that all reporters think alike. It will also sound unsympathetic toward the Aisenbergs, caught in the most terrible circumstances a parent's imagination might concoct.

But it's my sympathy that's being strained by the media blitz. The Aisenbergs have reached my heart, but not my head.

By appearing on TV, they seem to want two things at once -- not just to drum up new leads in this very odd case, but to help themselves.

A courtroom is one place, with one set of rules, with the one against self-incrimination at the center: The law doesn't require the Aisenbergs to be the least bit cooperative with detectives.

The court of public opinion is another place, with another set of rules, of common sense. Common sense says that parents desperate to find their child would cooperate fully with the police.

Defense lawyers have an explanation for the Aisenbergs' refusal to cooperate further. John Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor and now a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, said the couple would only lose by testifying further.

Investigators have already found inconsistencies in the couple's statements. The inconsistencies may be benign or not, but without further evidence they're the basic building blocks of the case. A prosecutor probably could have a "field day" with the couple's contradictory remarks, Fitzgibbons said.

That's one legal nicety, which suggests Cohen will never let his clients cooperate.

Here's another. The deal Cohen is offering the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is bogus.

He has said he'll permit detectives to further interview the couple only if the police show him what they have, including the notes of the interviews the Aisenbergs gave before he stepped in.

Every defense lawyer makes requests like this. Police give in, Fitzgibbons said, about as often "as snow (falls) in Tampa."

Cohen is asking for what he knows he can't get on the belief that his apparently reasonable request will score points with a dumb public that doesn't know how investigations work.

This is a man who's thinking ahead: Members of that dumb public may one day have to sit as jurors and decide the Aisenbergs' fate in a trial. How helpful it would be for the jurors to remember them vaguely, but kindly, as that nice couple on TV.

Cohen could declare the Aisenbergs won't cooperate until snow falls on Franklin Street. That would look very bad, so we've been treated instead to a sympathy show.

Regrettably from the defense's point of view, and more important, Sabrina's, the show can't go on much longer. If Sabrina isn't found soon, reporters will move on to the next calamity.

That's the nature of the sausage machine. It needs to be fed daily.

What will happen when the camera lights go dark, when the reporters stop calling? Will the Aisenbergs still be following their lawyer's advice, or will they be back at the sheriff's door, clamoring for help?
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Parents' stories trouble police

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:29

Missing Sabrina

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/0123police.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 1998

Hillsborough sheriff's investigators launched an unusual public counterattack Thursday in the case of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg, indicating at a news conference that they have serious suspicions about the child's parents.

Despite an investigation so broad it has encompassed 31 states, 702 leads and more than 1,200 interviews, "we still come back to the community, we still come back to Hillsborough County," said sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry.

Terry's remarks, the first significant release of information about the investigation, came a week after Marlene and Steve Aisenberg broke their silence in a spate of interviews with local reporters and national news shows.

Terry suggested it was unlikely a stranger could have targeted Sabrina for abduction, broken into the family's Brandon home Nov. 24, left all other valuables behind and vanished without a clue. Pointing to aerial pictures of the Aisenbergs' neighborhood, Terry questioned how a stranger could have maneuvered through the secluded cul-de-sac undetected.

Terry also said Mrs. Aisenberg has inaccurately told reporters that two polygraph exams she took within 48 hours of her daughter's disappearance were inconclusive. He would not elaborate, but said the Sheriff's Office was satisfied with its polygraph results.

"I don't give a damn whether it's true or not, because she passed a test that was very reliable," said Barry Cohen, the Aisenbergs' attorney, who immediately called his own news conference Thursday afternoon to counter Terry's remarks. The Aisenbergs both passed polygraph tests administered privately by the former FBI examiner who cleared Richard Jewell of the Atlanta Olympic bombing.

Terry said the refusal of the baby's parents to speak to investigators about their behavior the night before Sabrina's "reported abduction" on Nov. 24 "is a major stumbling block." Still, he said detectives are "encouraged" by an early analysis of evidence taken from the home that was hand-delivered to the FBI crime labs in Quantico, Va. He refused to elaborate.

He said 10 potential suspects were cleared of suspicion after taking polygraph tests, but he did not include the Aisenbergs in that group. Cohen, however, said he has no faith in the sheriff's examiner's ability to conduct an accurate polygraph.

He also accused the Sheriff's Office of focusing on the Aisenbergs as suspects to the exclusion of others. Cohen said he was alarmed after a two-hour meeting Tuesday with Terry that gave him the impression the parents were the prime suspects.

He was further alarmed by a subsequent exchange Wednesday night between investigators and the Aisenbergs.

"They were acting in violation of our agreement," said Cohen, who vowed to "step up my lawyering" and forbid any contact between investigators and the couple unless he is present. He would not elaborate on the exchange, beyond saying it involved the discussion of evidence.

The parents invoked their right to have an attorney present at all questioning shortly after a Nov. 25 polygraph test given by a sheriff's examiner, Terry said. They hired Cohen the next day and since that time have refused to discuss with detectives their conduct or demeanor the night before reporting Sabrina missing in a 911 call.

Cohen says he fears a manufactured case against the couple and has placed limitations on interviews until investigators share the case file and notes they wrote before his involvement. Terry said Thursday that will never happen.

After shunning the media for almost six weeks after the baby vanished, the Aisenbergs began a media tour with a Jan. 9 interview with the Times, then went on to appearances on Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, Today and Larry King Live.

Marc Klass, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted from her California home and was murdered, has appeared several times in television reports as an expert on child abductions. He said Wednesday that the Aisenbergs must endure the suspicions if they want to find Sabrina.

"Who knows what these parents know that might be a clue," said Klass, who described grueling police interviews before the discovery of his daughter's body two months after she was kidnapped. "I was willing to turn in members of my family. I was willing to bare my soul. Whatever it took to bring my child home.

"If I were the Aisenbergs now, I would dump Barry Cohen and go straight to the police station."
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Parents do not testify

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:29

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/0215Parents.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 5, 1998

TAMPA -- Marlene and Steve Aisenberg avoided testifying before a federal grand jury Wednesday as their attorney and criminal investigators traded accusations in a high-profile game of wills.

Barry Cohen, who has represented the couple since shortly after their infant daughter, Sabrina, disappeared, succeeded in blocking their grand jury appearance, at least temporarily.

He filed a motion to quash the Aisenbergs' subpoenas prior to reporting to the grand jury Wednesday morning. The document immediately was sealed by a federal clerk.

Looking tense and tired, the parents waited outside the grand jury room for two hours Wednesday while the lead FBI and Hillsborough sheriff's investigators each spent one hour inside the grand jury chambers.

Although the Aisenbergs were issued subpoenas to appear before the grand jury at 9:30 a.m., they did not testify. They were accompanied by their fathers, Stan Sadowsky and Irwin Aisenberg, a lawyer who clutched the novel Silent Witness.

Cohen and his clients abruptly left the federal courthouse after a clerk for U.S. Judge Henry Adams Jr. handed him an envelope. Cohen would not comment on television reports that Adams, who presides over the grand jury hearing the Aisenberg case, set a Feb. 11 hearing date to decide whether the couple must testify. Adams and his staff would not comment on the proceedings, which are kept secret by law.

Surrounded by reporters on the street, Cohen declined to discuss what had happened in federal court.

"Go back to your law enforcement leaks and let them tell you about it off the record," he said. Neither of the Aisenbergs spoke.

Sabrina, who now would be almost 8 months old, was reported missing from her crib Nov. 24.

From the Aisenbergs' first contact with sheriff's investigators, Cohen said the couple have been targeted as suspects in a case that has been riddled with leaks and has produced no evidence of wrongdoing.

Cohen refused to let investigators question the couple about their conduct since the disappearance unless they turned over notes and let him tape record the proceedings. Both sides reached an impasse.

That tension erupted Monday, as Cohen responded to the federal subpoenas with an offer to sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry and the U.S. Attorney's Office to interview the Aisenbergs freely. Cohen said he made the offer at the request of his clients, but both agencies rejected it.

"We felt the grand jury was the appropriate place for his clients to speak about the case," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown.

By Wednesday afternoon, in a news conference in his office, Cohen angrily withdrew the offer and said the rift between investigators and the Aisenbergs had widened.

"They're doing a half-assed job of trying to find Sabrina," said Cohen, who called on investigators to conduct psychological profiles of the more than 100 women who saw Sabrina at Mrs. Aisenberg's Playtime Pals play school. Waving a book, An Analysis of Infant Abductions, Cohen said investigators were ignorant of documents that could have aided their search for the baby.

He also railed against several leaks, including reports of a 10-year-old dispute between Steve Aisenberg and a female co-worker that much of the media ignored, and the report of a couple in a white van similar to the Aisenbergs' seen near the Alafia River, which prompted a search of the waters for Sabrina.

Cohen said detectives knew before leaking the information that the couple was not the Aisenbergs, yet the incident opened speculation that Aisenbergs were involved in a crime.

Cohen said investigators want to embarrass and discredit the Aisenbergs, who have two older children.

Brown said he doesn't think there is a problem with leaks and defended a joint investigation among his department, the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement that spanned 31 states and included 1,600 interviews.

He considers it unlikely the investigators would meet Cohen's latest requirement that they show a good faith effort in their investigation before they can interview the Aisenbergs.

"Without opening your case to show what you've done, how do you prove that?" he asked.

Meanwhile, several unfounded rumors circulated Wednesday, including an inaccurate report that Sabrina had been discovered in South America.

The rumors prompted so much attention that sheriff's officials issued a news release denying them.
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More witnesses called in case of missing baby

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:30

http://www.sptimes.com/News2/Sabrina/0211Witness.html

By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 1998

TAMPA -- A second round of subpoenas for the federal grand jury has been issued in the case of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg.

Ginny Westburg, a family friend who also worked with Marlene Aisenberg at her Playtime Pals program in Brandon, said Tuesday she was ordered to appear at the Federal Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, a federal judge Tuesday granted a motion by the Times to intervene in the Aisenberg case.

U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. directed the newspaper to file additional memorandums to support its request to make public court records related to the couple. The newspaper had sought access to a hearing on a sealed motion filed a week ago by the Aisenbergs attorney, Barry Cohen.

However, Adams said that contrary to news reports, no hearing had been scheduled for today in response to that motion.

The Aisenbergs went to the Federal Courthouse Feb. 4 after they were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury. Cohen filed a motion in the case before the scheduled 9:30 appearance, but the motion immediately was sealed. The Aisenbergs waited two hours outside the grand jury chambers, but did not testify and did not appear before Adams.

Cohen said Tuesday through a spokesman he would not comment on any matters related to a grand jury.

Sabrina Aisenberg was reported missing Nov. 24 from her crib in the family's Brandon home, triggering a nationwide search. The parents have refused on their attorney's advice to speak to a task force investigating the crime, saying they believe sheriff's detectives set out to frame them.
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Missing girl's parents go before grand jury

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:31




By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 1998

TAMPA -- Despite tense last-minute attempts by their attorney to block their testimony, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg appeared briefly Wednesday before a federal grand jury looking into the disappearance of their infant daughter.

Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen declined to say whether his clients answered questions before the grand jury about circumstances surrounding Sabrina Aisenberg's disappearance 11 weeks ago. Both the Aisenbergs emerged from their separate trips into the grand jury chambers within 15 minutes.

"We're not going to discuss anything today about what happened today. The public has a right to know and they eventually will know," said Cohen, as he guided the Aisenbergs past a jostling media pack outside the courthouse.

The latest round of legal wranglings began Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. denied an emergency motion filed by Cohen to postpone the Aisenbergs' testimony and ordered them to appear Wednesday. Cohen appeared shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday with his clients, who wore buttons printed with the picture of a daughter who now would be almost 8 months old. Sabrina has been missing from her Bloomingdale home since Nov. 24.

Cohen handed two motions to the criminal court clerk. The first, a motion to postpone, was immediately sealed and removed from public view. Cohen asked the clerk to hand back a second motion, which he held up in view of several reporters who read the document over his shoulder. The motion to produce stated in part that "leaks should be punished by contempt" and was sealed after Cohen returned it to the clerk. A sealed civil complaint also was filed.

Cohen has been outraged by leaks to reporters about the investigation and grand jury proceedings, which he attributes to law enforcement officers out to frame his clients.

The latest filing set abuzz the group of reporters covering the story, which on Wednesday expanded to include a CNN correspondent. There were reports that those involved with the case were particularly unhappy with a story Tuesday night on WFLA-TV Ch. 8 about Adams' sealed order compelling the Aisenbergs to testify.

"Once we confirmed what we believed to be accurate information, we felt a responsibility to report it," said Dan Bradley, WFLA news director. "We're not in the business of withholding the news. We're in the business of reporting the news. That's what reporters do."

He said reporter Lance Williams was worried about reactions to his report of secret proceedings, but Bradley said the station has strong legal representation and continued to support aggressive reporting on the Aisenberg case.

The impasse between Cohen and his clients and the federal and state officials investigating the baby's mysterious disappearance has festered almost from the beginning days of the case. Cohen barred investigators from asking the Aisenbergs about their conduct on the night Sabrina vanished for fear the parents were subjects of an overzealous task force.

That impasse brought them on Feb. 4 to the doorstep of the federal grand jury, but Cohen still did not back down. He blocked testimony with a request to quash the Aisenbergs' subpoenas, a motion that delayed their testimony for one week.

Despite the order from Adams to appear, the Aisenbergs again refused Wednesday to go before the grand jury before their latest appeal was heard by the judge. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kuntz sent them to the judge's chambers Wednesday morning. "We're refusing to go in," Cohen told a clerk for Adams, referring to the grand jury room.

In a hearing initially open to the public, Kuntz and Cohen argued before Adams that the proceedings to determine whether the Aisenbergs would testify should be secret. Kuntz said confidential information not yet disclosed to the public would be brought out in the hearing, while Cohen argued that the Aisenbergs face "irreparable prejudice" before a grand jury.

"It seems anything that goes on in this case everyone knows anyway," said Adams.

"The court has issued a motion to appear. Counsel says they will not," Kuntz said. "I believe we're in a contempt situation."

Adams moved the hearing to his chambers and closed it from public view. The Aisenbergs emerged 40 minutes later and immediately reported to the grand jury waiting area. Mrs. Aisenberg was inside the grand jury chambers for 14 minutes, appearing before a panel of 12 women and seven men. She emerged alone, and her husband went inside for 15 minutes. Witnesses may not go before the grand jury with their attorney.

Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor, said he thinks the brief appearances indicate the Aisenbergs cited the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens from incriminating themselves in a criminal case.

"There's nothing else they could do. Given the circumstances of this investigation, they would be very foolish to answer any questions in front of a grand jury," he said.

Fitzgibbons, who is not involved in the Aisenberg case, said prosecutors often spend several minutes with grand jury witnesses explaining their rights and the scope of an investigation.

He said no substantive questions could be answered in 15 minutes, nor would it be in the Aisenbergs' interest to speak.

"If a citizen has indeed committed a crime, the citizen would be very foolish to talk about circumstances," he said. And, he said, "There are times when innocent people are wrongly accused and wrongly focused on by law enforcement, and incidental statements can come back to them in a bad way."
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Officials: Aisenbergs are 'subjects'

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:31



By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 1998

TAMPA -- Federal prosecutors confirmed Friday that they think Marlene and Steve Aisenberg have crucial information about their missing baby that has made them subjects of a grand jury investigation, but said the inquiry stops short of calling them targets.

People are named as targets when a prosecutor has substantial evidence linking them to a crime. A subject is someone whose conduct falls within the scope of a grand jury investigation.

There are slightly differing views on the significance of the designation.

"A subject is a target that you don't want to identify as a target," said criminal defense lawyer Pat Doherty, who is not involved in the case. "For some reason, no one wants to treat these people like they're suspects when indeed they are the only suspects."

Former federal prosecutor Eduardo Palmer of Miami sees it a little differently:

"The subject is someone they have a sense may have had some involvement and really is more useful as someone who can provide information to move the investigation along," Palmer said. "Your client is in an area where there is criminal exposure. It remains to be seen whether there is sufficient information so they become a target."

The latest developments came in a public hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr., who heard arguments in a motion brought by the Times to make public certain motions filed in the Aisenberg case.

At the hearing, Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen, who began representing the Aisenbergs two days after infant Sabrina was reported missing Nov. 24, asked Adams to appoint an independent investigator to go after the source of leaks in the grand jury probe. Cohen filed a motion Wednesday in federal court asking for leaks to be punished by a contempt ruling.

The Aisenbergs each appeared for less than 15 minutes Wednesday before the grand jury after Adams rejected Cohen's attempts to block their testimony, but did not appear at Friday's one-hour public hearing.

Cohen said leaks from within the investigation alerted the media to the secret grand jury hearing. The subsequent attention surrounding the Aisenbergs' appearance, along with speculation that they invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify, damaged their reputations, Cohen said. Without indicating whether the couple took the Fifth, Cohen said such an action before a grand jury is seen by the public as "tantamount to a confession of guilt."

Media lawyers argued that Cohen's motions speak to government misconduct, which needs public scrutiny.

"In this case, the usual secrecy doesn't apply because we know the Aisenbergs have been called before the grand jury," Times attorney Thomas McGowan said. "It's a public case. The cat's out of the bag, as the judge said. There's a little bit of room to see how the prosecution is acting and how the defense is acting."

Gregg Thomas, a Holland & Knight lawyer representing the Tampa Tribune, which joined the Times in its motion, also argued for disclosure: "Whether the government impinged on the rights of citizens or committed some misconduct, it's important for the public to know."

Federal grand juries are made of citizens who decide whether there is sufficient evidence of a crime to hand an indictment and take a case to court. It takes a grand jury indictment to be charged with a federal crime.

"They're permitted to fish around . . . It's often used to discover and unearth and create through question and answering," said Nancy King, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School in Tennessee. "That's one of the great things about the grand jury. It is secret. If there hasn't been a crime, it's possible to dispose of a case through a grand jury investigation . . . to avoid public suspicion of an individual."

Yet defense lawyers whose clients are called before a grand jury fear the process because any conflicting statements, even the most technical, can be grounds for a felony perjury charge. Prosecutors use the grand jury process to get key evidence on the record.

"There are a lot of risks involved," Tampa defense lawyer Bennie Lazzara said.

Adams said he will make his decision on the newspaper's motion by Tuesday. Meanwhile, additional subpoenas have been issued for the Aisenbergs' friends. They are scheduled to testify before the federal grand jury Wednesday.
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A new lead in search for Sabrina?

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:31



By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 1998

BRANDON -- Immediately after 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg was reported missing, a Brandon nanny said she called sheriff's detectives twice to describe three strangers who had loitered for months in a parking lot near a play school run by the infant's mother.

Cindy McGee noticed the dark orange color of the 1970s model Ford pickup. She noted the blue Michigan tag with the numbers 8 and 6, the same as hers. She even could describe the strangers and their habit of showing up about 4 p.m., when Marlene Aisenberg was running her Playtime Pals business with Sabrina at her side.

But Mrs. McGee said Wednesday that Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives never returned either of the calls she made after Sabrina was reported missing Nov. 24.

Neither did they interview her after Mrs. Aisenberg supplied detectives Nov. 24 with a list of nannies, including Mrs. McGee, who brought children to her program. Fourteen days after Sabrina vanished, Mrs. Aisenberg gave detectives a powder-blue cigar box containing the names of her clients, including Mrs. McGee. She said she later was told each one had been contacted.

Mrs. Aisenberg ran into Mrs. McGee on Feb. 19 and heard for the first time about the truck, the strangers and suspicions so powerful that Mrs. McGee said she shared her concerns with a teacher at an adjacent child-care program two weeks before Sabrina's disappearance.

"I'm sitting there saying "You've got to be kidding me.' I was hysterical," Mrs. Aisenberg said Wednesday. She also learned that Mrs. McGee never had been questioned. "On the second day they told me they talked to her. Then to find out she had never been talked to."

Sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown said he would not discuss any of the more than 1,700 interviews conducted, but said anyone with information who has not been contacted should call the sheriff's office again.

"It's possible that one or two of them we missed," Brown said. "We received information early on in the investigation about a red truck, and no red trucks have ever been linked to this case. In fact, we've cleared eight to 10 of them."

Marlene and Steve Aisenberg said they fear detectives might have missed an early opportunity to locate Sabrina, but also view the new information with hope their daughter might be located.

Barry Cohen, the Aisenbergs' attorney, said he is convinced detectives are so sure the parents are responsible for Sabrina's disappearance that they have failed to consider leads that would point the investigation away from them.

"It's appalling," Cohen said. "It's incredible to me." Mrs. McGee said she first noticed the dark orange truck the day after seeing a copy of the Brandon News featuring a picture of a pregnant Marlene, and a story about her baby shower, Sabrina's birth on June 27 and her connection to Playtime Pals. The truck reappeared sporadically, always parked near a playground fence within several hundred yards of Mrs. Aisenberg's business, Mrs. McGee said. It was a battered truck, and the engine roared, as if the muffler was missing.

Two men and a woman usually perched on the tailgate or watched children in the playground. One was a thin woman in her mid-20s with a blond ponytail, Mrs. McGee said. The younger man had shoulder-length blond hair, wore dusty blue jeans and carried a red bandanna in his back pocket. The older man was chunky, dressed like a construction worker, and wore a red baseball cap backward.

She last saw them Nov. 21, about two days before Sabrina vanished.

She suspected them immediately when she heard the news. "Absolutely," she said. "I would be willing to bet my life on it."

The next morning, neighbor Chuck Jones said he noticed a dark red pickup truck in the cul-de-sac in front of the Aisenbergs' home. An artist hired by the Times and WTVT-Ch. 13 drew a rendering of the truck Mrs. McGee described. It was shown to Jones on Wednesday, who said it appeared to be a different color and older than the truck he saw.

About 3:30 a.m. Nov. 24, neighbor Mari Ray heard a vehicle driving so fast she looked onto Warm Spring Way, around the corner from the Aisenbergs, but could make out only brake lights. She went back to bed and heard a second vehicle in the cul-de-sac. Then a third.

"The last one, I'm literally falling asleep. I'm thinking it was some semi. It was very loud," she said.

She never told detectives about the third vehicle because she assumed it was a commercial truck.

Marlene and Steve Aisenberg also were shown the drawing Wednesday, but Mrs. Aisenberg said she never noticed the truck near her business. Steve Aisenberg, who sells new homes, said it appeared to be similar to a truck driven by a former customer, who backed out of a real estate deal and lost a $500 deposit. He said the younger man in the picture looked like his former customer.

The Aisenbergs have gone to the sheriff's office in recent days to look at surveillance videos of suspects, and to discuss other leads. On the advice of their attorney, they have refused to discuss their conduct with detectives. The case has been turned over to a federal grand jury.

Ginny Westburg, a close friend who helped Mrs. Aisenberg run the play school program, appeared for 10 minutes Wednesday before the federal grand jury. She appeared shaken afterward and would not discuss her testimony.

It was Westburg who told Cindy McGee to call the sheriff's office on Nov. 25 after hearing about the suspicious truck.
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Aisenbergs' attorney takes issue with investigators

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:32



By MARTY ROSEN

İSt. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 1998

BRANDON -- State investigators questioned Marlene and Steve Aisenberg about a child abuse complaint the night before the couple appeared before a federal grand jury looking into the disappearance of their infant daughter, Sabrina.

The Aisenbergs'attorney denounced the move as intimidation.

The questioning occurred Feb. 3 after a Hillsborough County sheriff's detective in terviewed friends and family of the Aisenbergs.

Brandishing photographs of Sabrina, Detective Linda Burton asked at least two people to point to bruises on the baby. When they said they saw no evidence of abuse, Burton told them Mrs. Aisenberg had named them as potential suspects, said two of the people who were interviewed.

Barry Cohen, the Aisenbergs' attorney, claimed the visit by Department of Children and Families caseworkers was timed to harass his clients and follows a pattern of abuse by government investigators intent on framing the Aisenbergs.

"One would have to be a complete moron to believe that was a coincidence," Cohen said. "The point of doing it was to intimidate them, to suggest to them that this agency may very well take (their older children) away from them."

DCF spokesman Tom Jones declined comment.

Sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown would not comment on the DCF involvement with the Aisenbergs and defended the work of sheriff's investigators.

In an interview with the Times, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg said they invited the caseworkers into their home, answered questions and offered to leave them alone with their older children for more questioning.

"They asked me, like, when you get punished do your parents spank you or stuff like that," said their son William, 8. "I said no. They send us to our room for five or 10 minutes."

He said the caseworkers also asked him about household rules, and William told them he is expected to finish his dinner before he eats dessert, and he must save $2 of his allowance.

"They knew they had nothing to be concerned about," Cohen said. "The fact is, they're unbelievably good parents."

Sabrina vanished from her crib in the Aisenbergs' Brandon home Nov. 24, and hours later Mrs. Aisenberg said she began supplying detectives with requested lists of people who had been around the baby. Some were childless women, some were nannies, some had appeared jealous or exhibited behavior before Sabrina disappeared that detectives considered worthy of further investigation. Others had attended a birthday party for the Aisenbergs' nephew the day before the baby vanished. Cohen said they included Marlene's cousin, Wendy Witlow, and a friend, Cheryl Cohen.

Witlow, 27, said she was upset by a message Burton left on her answering machine shortly after an interview in which Burton showed her a picture of Sabrina and asked her to pick out markings. Witlow told Burton she did not see any bruises on the baby.

"I just need to know what you were doing on Sunday after the birthday party ... You have been listed as an alleged suspect by the Aisenbergs. I need to clear you as a suspect," Burton said on the tape.

Cohen said the message was "calculated to get her angry at the Aisenbergs, to get her to say something against the Aisenbergs."

Brown said detectives sometimes inform people that the subject of an investigation has named them as possible suspects to get them to talk. "That's a very common procedure because then people tend to talk even more," Brown said.

Mrs. Aisenberg's father, Stan Sadowsky, said Burton showed him a 12- by 16-inch photograph of Sabrina, pointed to her eye area and suggested she had an injury.

"This is part of their desperation, and they are desperate," Sadowsky said. "Boy, they got a rise out of me. I said, "You come in my house, you show me a picture, you say she's been abused.' "

Cheryl Cohen, no relation to the Aisenbergs' attorney, said she was given a polygraph examination and told it was done at Barry Cohen's request. Barry Cohen said he did include her name on the list of friends to be questioned but attacked sheriff's investigators' decision to lay blame for the test on him.

"I did nothing, I know nothing. The only thing they were trying to do was play me against Marlene," Cheryl Cohen said.

Also on Thursday, sheriff's detectives interviewed a Brandon nanny who tried to tell them immediately after Sabrina's disappearance about a suspicious 1970s model dark orange Ford truck that had been loitering for months near Mrs. Aisenberg's playschool business. Detectives responded after the Times and WTVT-TV Ch. 13 reported that Cindy McGee never was questioned about her suspicions.

McGee said detectives asked her to take a polygraph test and called her employers, who entrust the Brandon woman with their children.

"They never got the message that I called either time," McGee said. "They said maybe it got lost in the shuffle."

Meanwhile, Susana Blake, the owner of Children's Academy, the Brandon preschool that rented space to Mrs. Aisenberg, said Thursday she never saw an orange truck near her preschool and neither did her employees. McGee said she reported the truck to a teacher but doubted the message was relayed because the teacher was busy with four small children at the time.
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Day of blessing passes without baby Sabrina

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:32



By MARTY ROSEN

İ St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 1998

BRANDON -- Marlene and Steve Aisenberg had hoped to hold a family celebration Friday to give their youngest daughter, Sabrina, her Hebrew name on the day she turned 9 months old.

The celebration would have coincided with their 11th wedding anniversary, on Sunday. Back in September, when the Aisenberg family was still intact, they had made their plans with joy.

Their relatives would gather from Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland. They planned a shabbat dinner for Friday night, a day at the beach Saturday, and a ceremony with 75 friends on Sunday, when Sabrina would be named for her late grandmother, Sylvia.

"We thought we were having a double mitzvah," or double blessing, Marlene Aisenberg said Friday. Instead, Rabbi Marc Sack will come to their home Sunday to pray with them alone for a baby who vanished in November.

"We're praying for her safety, praying she's being taken care of and praying she'll be home soon. It's not a celebration in any way," Mrs. Aisenberg said. "I just want to be alone."

Four months after their daughter disappeared from her crib without a trace, the Aisenbergs struggle to maintain a normal home life for themselves and their older children, William, 8, and Monica, 4.

A federal grand jury continues to investigate the missing child case while the Aisenbergs refuse to talk to police about the events of the night their daughter disappeared. Their attorney believes the police are attempting to frame them.

To plea for help in finding their daughter, the Aisenbergs have appeared on Oprah, the Today show and Larry King Live, strange twists in the lives of two parents who say they just wanted to raise their kids in a quiet suburb.

Steve Aisenberg has returned to work selling new homes for M/I Homes. Mrs. Aisenberg fields the endless phone calls from friends, the media and her attorney's office, and watches closely over her children. Too closely, she says.

"I'm terrified," she said. She says she won't let her 8-year-old son ride his bike out of her sight, or walk to a friend's house around the corner. He asks if he can play basketball in the driveway, and she sends him to the back yard, where she can hear him.

"I don't think it's going to stop even after Sabrina comes home because I'm a totally different person, and that's very scary for me. I feel like I'm a shell of who I used to be."

Some decisions have been put on hold until they find Sabrina. They say they live in fear inside their four-bedroom house, on what was once considered a safe cul-de-sac, but won't consider moving while their baby is gone. Other changes can't be helped.

Daughter Monica has grown 2 inches. Son William is blossoming as a writer and artist.

Both children have been told from the start that they must believe Sabrina is in a safe place, with adults who are taking proper care of her. Still, that didn't prepare Mrs. Aisenberg last week for something William said.

"I'm getting sadder and sadder, mommy," he said. "I'm starting to think about Sabrina with a new mommy and daddy."

Mrs. Aisenberg said she choked back tears and gently corrected him. "They're not her mommy and daddy. She's coming home."
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Aisenberg grand jury continues

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:33



Parents of children who went to a play school run by the missing baby's mother offer testimony.

By MARTY ROSEN

İ St. Petersburg Times, published August 13, 1998

TAMPA -- A federal grand jury, which first began hearing evidence in February in the case of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg, on Wednesday heard from two parents whose children briefly attended a play school run by Marlene Aisenberg, the baby's mother.

Dr. Jonathan Axel, whose son attended the Aisenbergs' play school, declined to comment on his appearance before the grand jury. The second parent, a woman, also declined comment.

Sabrina, who was 5 months old at the time, vanished nine months ago from her parent's Valrico home.

No one has been charged in connection with her disappearance, although investigators have continued to say that the Aisenbergs have not been ruled out as suspects in the case.

Barry Cohen, the Tampa lawyer who was hired by the family two days after the baby disappeared, said Wednesday that prosecutors are wasting taxpayer dollars by creating a public spectacle.

"This grand jury foolishness is just foolishness," he said. "I don't know what the grand jury is doing and I don't care what the grand jury is doing because there is nothing for them to be doing."

Cohen said Marlene and Steve Aisenberg met for an hour last month with more than 20 investigators, led by Hillsborough County Sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry.

Cohen, who was at the meeting, repeated his offer to allow investigators to question the parents with him present and a tape recorder running. He said the offer was declined.

Both sides have been at an impasse since the early days of the investigation over Cohen's demand to tape any interviews with him present.
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A year of anguish

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:33



Since baby Sabrina vanished, there have been plenty of leads, activity, tears and suspicions, but no sign of the girl. Yet hope remains.

By SUE CARLTON

İ St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1998

TAMPA -- By now, baby Sabrina should be walking and talking, sharing Beanie Babies with her big sister, munching Cheerios and closing in on her terrible twos.

By now, her parents, Steve and Marlene Aisenberg, should be talking about when to take down the crib in the pastel baby's room, when they will set up a bed for a little girl growing up fast.

But for a year, baby Sabrina's room has been hauntingly quiet.

The FBI has pored over the crib where the cherub-cheeked, wispy-haired child once lay playing contentedly with her jingling blocks. Today, the door to the baby's room, the place from which the 5-month-old vanished without a trace last November, mostly stays closed.

"It's just too hard to go in there," her father said.

In the year that has passed since Sabrina's parents dialed 911 to report her missing, detectives first hovered in helicopters, trampled through brambles and searched ponds, then followed leads into 48 states and three countries. There have been headlines and talk shows, a grand jury inquiry and a public face-off between investigators and the Aisenbergs' lawyer. There have been suspicions, and there have been hopes.

Still, there is no Sabrina.

Her mother, who says she believes someone, somewhere, is taking care of Sabrina, says they won't lose hope.

"We know she's going to come home," Marlene Aisenberg said in a recent, sometimes tearful, interview as her husband patted her arm. "She needs to be with us."

Investigators say they, too, believe there one day will be a conclusion.

"We still feel that the answers to this case are within Hillsborough County," said Sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown. "We feel very confident it will be resolved."

* * *

For the Aisenbergs, time has been split in two: what came before, and what came after.

Before it happened, the couple, who met in college, had formed a family much like those around them in a Brandon neighborhood of neat lawns and stay-at-home moms. Steve, who sells new homes, was enjoying his best financial year yet, and Marlene was running her preschool program, Playtime Pals, her baby girl at her side.

"We were a family full of life," she said.

"Now," her husband said, "we're just going through the motions."

The world changed Nov. 24, 1997. Marlene Aisenberg said she last checked Sabrina in her crib about midnight. Early the next morning, she said, she noticed the back door was open and ran to check on the baby. A neighbor would later recount the mother's frantic words: "My baby's gone, my baby's gone."

Within days, the Aisenbergs hired high-profile attorney BarryCohen, whom they met through their rabbi, and stopped talking to detectives. They said investigators accused them of hurting Sabrina and frightened them into hiring a lawyer.

Cohen, no stranger to controversial cases, has charged that detectives have so focused on the Aisenbergs as suspects that they have failed to consider leads that might point elsewhere. He has accused officials of trying to intimidate the Aisenbergs by suggesting their two older children could be taken away.

"I think the Sheriff's Office is looking at them and has been looking at them because they made up their minds originally," Cohen said.

Early on, officials suggested it was unlikely a stranger targeted Sabrina, broke into the house, took nothing else and then disappeared. They questioned how a stranger could have gotten through the secluded cul de sac undetected.

Brown of the Sheriff's Office called it "ridiculous" to suggest that detectives had "only followed one path," pointing to interviews with 5,000 people in the case and the pursuit of more than 1,900 leads that have taken them around the nation and to Mexico, Canada and England.

But none of those leads, including the numerous reports of sightings, has panned out.

The Aisenbergs both appeared separately and for less than 15 minutes in February before a federal grand jury. They did not comment on whether they had invoked their Fifth Amendment rights.

Brown said there are no suspects. He also said the Aisenbergs, who "have been of limited assistance" to detectives, have not been ruled out.

Cohen bristles at the idea that the Aisenbergs have not cooperated. He said they willingly gave blood, hair and fingerprint samples, allowed their children to be interviewed out of their presence, and recently let detectives take dirt from their yard to compare with dirt from the carpet in their home.

"I'm sure they're still looking at us," Steve Aisenberg said. "I think they'll look at us until the day they find Sabrina and bring her home to us."

* * *

On talk shows and to reporters, Marlene Aisenberg says it again and again: she has to believe Sabrina is alive.

"I feel that she's with somebody, being loved and taken care of," Marlene Aisenberg said. "I believe that with all my heart, but I need her home with us."

Armed with pictures of blue-eyed Sabrina, who disappeared with her yellow blanket and the flowered sleeper she wore, the Aisenbergs and Cohen have hit the talk show circuit. They appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, Dateline NBC and Today. They talked to Larry King and faced sometimes-skeptical questioning from Oprah, who held Marlene Aisenberg's hand during a commercial break.

The Aisenbergs say the support of friends, family and strangers has been unwavering.

"In the beginning, (law enforcement officials) said, "Do you realize how the community will treat you? Like a pariah,' " Steve Aisenberg said. "It's been just the opposite."

Before, Marlene was someone who could make a friend on a trip to the grocery store. She says she has become the kind of person who doesn't talk to strangers, who is afraid to answer the door at night.

"I'm hollow and empty inside," she said.

She watches children who are the age Sabrina would be now and thinks about how her daughter would be walking, talking, eating regular foods, playing with certain toys.

"She'd be doing everything now," she said, sobbing. "We've missed all of it."

Steve Aisenberg, who is quiet and reserved, is back at work, though his wife has closed her play school. The Aisenbergs say they try to cobble together a normal life for their son and daughter.

"We just want our family whole again," he said.

They stick close to their two older children. Marlene Aisenberg walks young William to and from the bus stop, and to the bathroom in restaurants -- something that, at 9, he doesn't necessarily like but seems to understand. William is still on the honor roll at school. But at home, his mother says, he startles at every small sound, afraid someone is coming to get him.

More and more, he asks why God could let this happen.

Daughter Monica, who is 5, makes up her own songs to sing, and sometimes Sabrina is in them. When William and Monica add to their Beanie Baby collections, there is often one bought and set aside for Sabrina. The family still has last year's Hanukkah gifts, wrapped and tucked away, marked for the baby.

They say they don't want to move from their home on Springville Drive without Sabrina, and they have started talking about fixing up her room so it will be suitable for a little girl instead of a baby.

"You only need one lead," Steve Aisenberg said.

"And we know they're going to get it," Marlene Aisenberg said.
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Search persists; family to move

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:34



The Aisenbergs have found living on Springville Drive a painful reminder of their missing child, their attorney says.

By RICHARD DANIELSON

İ St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 1999

BRANDON -- As Marlene and Steve Aisenberg prepare to move their family to Maryland, out of the suburb where their infant daughter vanished 17 months ago, the investigation into the disappearance of Sabrina Paige Aisenberg goes on.

Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives still want to question the Aisenbergs about the night of Nov. 24, 1997, the last night they saw Sabrina. The couple still believes investigators should be looking somewhere else in the hope of finding their daughter alive.

Sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown said Monday that authorities have been aware that the Aisenbergs were going to move, but that the fact has no bearing on his agency's work. Six detectives will stay on the case full time, and a grand jury probe into Sabrina's disappearance is "very active."

"We have followed up on over 1,900 leads and conducted over 6,000 interviews," Brown said. Tips have led investigators to every state in the United States except Nebraska as well as six countries: Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Bahamas, Germany and England.

"They still have not been ruled out as suspects," Brown said of the Aisenbergs, "but we have no suspects at this time."

The Aisenbergs' attorney, Barry Cohen of Tampa, said neither he nor they would discuss a move, which was reported by WFLA-Ch. 8 over the weekend and supported by the observations of neighbors.

Neighbors say Steve Aisenberg moved out of the family's home on Springville Drive a few weeks ago. Marlene Aisenberg and the couple's two children are expected to follow him to Baltimore, where he has a job selling real estate, once the school year ends. A real estate agent's lockbox is on the front door of their house now.

Cohen did say the ordeal of losing Sabrina, being investigated and finding themselves at the center of a nationally publicized mystery "absolutely" has shaped their decisions about where they want to live.

"It's very, very difficult to live in this environment, a constant reminder of the loss of your child," Cohen said. That has meant "having to deal with some people who stare and some people who make comments that are insensitive. But by and large the people have been very supportive. Steve's got to go where he can make a living, too."

Cohen challenged the suggestion that the Aisenbergs, who moved to Brandon from Maryland in 1991, are not cooperating with detectives. What they are most concerned about, he said, is getting their daughter back.

"We met with (investigators) less than a month ago for three or four hours," he said. At the meeting, which was scheduled after inquiries from the family and their attorney, the Aisenbergs agreed to make one of their cars and a rug available so that detectives could check them for evidence, Cohen said.

"We're continuing to cooperate with them," he said. "We were mainly interested in getting an up-"I think one of the things that's important in an investigation like this is that over time friendships change, business relationships change and people come forward. Anyone that has information, although in their opinion it may not be worth anything, we encourage them to call and pass it on. We still believe that the answers to this are in Hillsborough County."


-- LT. GREG BROWN
Hillsborough Sheriff's Office

Brown said "the hope is the child would be alive." But, he added, "statistically and historically . . . the longer it takes to find the child, the less of a chance (there is) that the child would be found alive.

As for the Aisenbergs' cooperation, Brown noted that "they still have not provided a formal interview, and they have refused spontaneous interviews throughout the investigation."

On the night Sabrina disappeared, Mrs. Aisenberg has said, she last checked on the 5-month-old around midnight. The baby's crib was empty when she went into Sabrina's room at 6:30 the next morning. There was no sign of forced entry, and Brownie, the family's dog, did not alert them to any problem during the night.

Brown said investigators believe someone can solve the mystery into Sabrina's disappearance, but it might take time before that person comes forward.

"I think one of the things that's important in an investigation like this is that over time friendships change, business relationships change and people come forward," he said. "Anyone that has information, although in their opinion it may not be worth anything, we encourage them to call and pass it on. We still believe that the answers to this are in Hillsborough County."

Asked whether detectives think that the answers will remain in Hillsborough County after the Aisenbergs move, Brown considered the question for a long time.

Then he said, "We still have unresolved issues with the family, but we still have communications with their attorney and will continue to look at the set of events which occurred that night."


-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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Baby Sabrina still appears on missing children's list

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:35



By TIM GRANT

İ St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 1999

TAMPA -- Log on to the Missing Children's Help Center Web site, and you'll still see a picture of baby Sabrina Aisenberg on her stomach, staring up from the blanket-covered floor of her parents' former home in Brandon.

Despite an indictment last week that suggests 5-month-old Sabrina was killed by her father before she was reported missing nearly two years ago, the child will continue to be listed as missing.

Law enforcement officers have not told the Help Center to remove Sabrina from the list; and until her body is found or someone is convicted of causing her death, it will probably stay on the Web site, said Ivana DiNova, the center's executive director.

"We still feel it is very important to find out what happened to Sabrina," DiNova said Saturday. "I think the community and the rest of the family deserves to know. Our job is to work for Sabrina. She deserves to be found no matter how or where she is."

Steve and Marlene Aisenberg, who moved to Maryland earlier this year, were charged last week with lying to police about Sabrina's disappearance in November 1997.

A series of secretly recorded conversations suggest that Steve Aisenberg might have "harmed" the child and that both parents schemed to cover up a crime. Authorities said there is not enough evidence to charge the couple with killing the child.

Through their attorney, the Aisenbergs have denied the charges.

Despite a massive search and an extensive photo distribution campaign by the Help Center, no trace of Sabrina has ever been found.

Across the county, Sabrina's photos are distributed nationwide by the center; and a poster of Sabrina is stuck on about 500 semitrailer trucks that travel the country.

Sabrina's photograph appears with about 600 other missing children on the organization's Web site at http://www.800USAKIDS.Org.

The Web site also features 7-year-old Amanda Brown. Although her body was never found, Tampa crab fisherman Willie Crane is on trial for her murder. If Crane is convicted and law enforcement closes the file, the center also will close its case, DiNova said.

In the weeks following Sabrina's disappearance, Steve and Marlene Aisenberg joined other volunteers in stuffing envelopes with Sabrina's photograph, even as they hired an attorney and refused to cooperate with authorities looking for their daughter.

Since founding the organization in 1976, DiNova said, she has dealt with plenty of grieving parents.

Some are so involved with the search for their children, they hounded the police. Some are angry with investigators they think aren't doing enough. Some parents are even so grief-stricken that they become prisoners at home waiting for the latest call from detectives.

But DiNova said she had never seen parents avoid police. Still, she never suspected the Aisenbergs.

"Their explanation was okay with us," DiNova said. "We figured if they wanted to work with an attorney, that's up to them."
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Public anguish was false front, indictment alleges

Post  milly on Thu 13 Oct - 0:35



By JEFF TESTERMAN

İ St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 1999

TAMPA -- In scores of public st
Lawyers say indictment aims to split Aisenbergs

Bugs hard to get, experts say

How can parents lack a conscience? The 'Me Syndrome'
atements and months of public appearances since their baby disappeared, Steve and Marlene Aisenberg steadfastly maintained their innocence.

But a federal indictment suggests that was merely a facade to hide their guilt.

What the Aisenbergs were saying publicly was far different from what they were saying in private, the indictment alleges.

The most damning evidence federal authorities revealed Thursday was a series of secretly recorded
photo
Steve and Marlene Aisenberg embrace their daughter Monica on Feb. 9, 1998, under a missing poster for Sabrina. [Times files]
conversations suggesting the Aisenbergs schemed from the outset to get their alibis straight and point investigators in the wrong direction. But investigators were suspicious almost immediately.

On the evening of Nov. 24, 1997, for instance, just hours after Marlene Aisenberg reported her baby Sabrina had been kidnapped, the Aisenbergs gave a videotaped statement pleading for her safe return.

But in interviews with detectives the same day, the couple gave inconsistent statements about the events leading to Sabrina's disappearance, the indictment alleges. They first said they were awakened by a noisy fish tank. Later, Steve Aisenberg said his wife's screaming woke him, and Marlene said she had been awakened by a television alarm.

Marlene Aisenberg said the family dog, Brownie, was inside the house when she and her husband went to bed. She later said she got up in the middle of the night to let Brownie in after she heard the dog scratching at a door.

On Nov. 25, Marlene Aisenberg failed to produce a list the FBI had requested of people they thought might have been involved in the kidnapping. Instead, the indictment alleges, she continued to "socialize and watch television."

Three weeks after Sabrina disappeared, Marlene Aisenberg's friends described her as anguished, shut away for hours in her bedroom with her children and her prayers. But authorities say the couple were distancing themselves from investigators.

They "repeatedly retreated" to their bedroom and turned on the stereo so loudly that detectives awaiting a ransom call in the kitchen could not hear any conversation. Five days later, the Aisenbergs asked the FBI to leave.

Marlene Aisenberg stands in Sabrina's room as Steve Aisenberg talks to their son, William, 8, holding one of Sabrina's toys during an interview with the Times at their Bloomingdale home. [Times photo, 1998: Cherie Diez]

On Dec. 23, the day after the couple took part in a candlelight vigil for Sabrina, they read a prepared statement at their lawyer's office, asking for the safe return of their baby.

The next day, investigators eavesdropping on the couple allegedly heard a startling conversation.

"The baby's dead and buried!" Marlene yelled to Steve, the indictment alleges. "It was found dead because you did it! The baby's dead no matter what you say -- you just did it."

"Honey," her husband allegedly replied, "there was nothing I could do about it. We need to discuss the way that we can beat the charge. I would never break from the family pact and our story even if the police were to hold me down."

As the investigation stretched into 1998, the Aisenbergs decided to break their silence and embark on a media blitz.

On Jan. 9, the Aisenbergs granted an interview to the St. Petersburg Times. The next day they went to the Missing Children Help Center in Brandon. Two days later, the couple appeared with their attorney, Barry Cohen, on NBC's Today Show.

But agents were still secretly listening in on what the couple was saying privately.

The day they appeared on Today, Marlene privately discussed "a problem with the timeline" given to investigators, the indictment alleges. Marlene had said she went immediately to check on Sabrina, then the other children the day the baby disappeared. In another interview, she reversed it, saying she checked Sabrina's crib last. Marlene told Steven she worried she might be trouble, the indictment says.

On Jan. 21, Hillsborough sheriff's investigators showed the couple enlarged photographs of Sabrina taken from a videotape made two days before the child's disappearance. The photos showed apparent injuries to Sabrina's head and face.

Marlene ran from the room while Steve sat "'red-faced, and nervously rapped a writing instrument on the table," the indictment says.

Later that night, the couple was secretly taped talking about the pictures.

Marlene cursed, referring to the photos as "them f------ pictures, them f------ pictures." She told Steve they would have to get their attorney to explain the injuries.

Later, Steve said to Marlene, "I wish I hadn't harmed her." A prosecutor said in court Thursday that he added, "It was the cocaine."

The next day, the Sheriff's Office announced that the investigation continued to point to the Aisenbergs.

Still, the couple kept a high profile.

On Jan. 26, they opened an account at NationsBank for donations to help in the search for Sabrina. The next day, they flew to Texas to tape an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The couple said they knew nothing about what had happened to Sabrina.

But privately, the indictment says, they were still going over their story, especially now that they had been ordered to appear before a grand jury.

Steve worried about being overheard. On Jan. 31, the indictment alleges, he told his wife, "What we're gonna have to do is always turn on the radio if you presume they're listening."

On Feb. 17 authorities overheard the Aisenbergs discussing the grand jury, which they had appeared before six days earlier.

"'They don't know the truth, right?" Steve said to Marlene.

"Yeah," Marlene answered. "So, so in a way, you know, that means nobody knows what we did still."

"Exactly."

In March 1998, four months after Sabrina disappeared, the Aisenbergs went on ABC's 20/20. They marked their 11th wedding anniversary that month, which they had hoped would be a family celebration when Sabrina would be given her Hebrew name. The celebration was not to be.

The Aisenbergs also were busy keeping investigators off their trail, the indictment alleges.

During the first days of March, the indictments say, the couple "schemed about trying to wrongly blame a Michigan man" for Sabrina's disappearance.

Three months after they opened the bank account for Sabrina's return, authorities say, the couple began using the money to pay off their credit cards.
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