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Wife of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder pleads guilty to stealing baby in Hillsborough

TAMPA — The woman accused of faking a pregnancy and stealing a baby to fool her baseball player-husband into thinking he was the father pleaded guilty Wednesday.

Amalia Tabata-Pereira, 44, was charged with three felonies: kidnapping, interference with custody and impersonating a public officer.

When Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet asked how she pleaded, Pereira answered "guilty" to all.

She will be sentenced Sept. 30.

The kidnapping charge alone could send Pereira to prison for life. If she is sentenced as a habitual offender, each of the two other felonies could lock her away for up to 10 years each. Pereira's plea did not come with any cap from prosecutors, meaning the judge is not limited with regard to the punishment he can decide on.

Pereira cried as Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Gabbard read the facts of the case.

Gabbard said that Pereira approached Rosa Sirilo-Francisco on March 23, 2009, at a Plant City health clinic. Pereira said she was an immigration official and told Sirilo-Francisco she needed to hand over her 2-month-old girl.

The mother was scared and surprised, and insisted she would not give Pereira the child without talking to the girl's father, Andres Cruz. They rode out to the farm where he worked, and Pereira told him the same story.

Cruz asked for identification, but Pereira acted like she was in a hurry and said she had no time for that. Being scared and not knowing how the legal system worked, the couple allowed Pereira to take their baby.

Six hours later, they called police, who sounded an Amber Alert.

Meanwhile, Pereira took the girl to Manatee County to meet her husband, Jose Tabata, who had spent months on the road playing with a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

They had met at a club in 2006. He was 18. They married two years later at an Amscot.

Police said Pereira announced she was pregnant in July 2008, eight months before she stole the baby. Tabata took Pereira to two doctor appointments. He noticed she gained weight. Authorities reported that she did that on purpose.

Tabata was traveling with the team on Jan. 21, 2009, when Pereira told him she had given birth to a little girl named Nicole, two months before Pereira took the baby and six months after she said she was pregnant. She sent him photographs showing a baby being delivered, authorities said. The woman giving birth was shown only from the waist down.

Then she told Tabata she had received death threats against the baby. Police said he told his wife to hide the child with a nanny until he returned to Florida.

On March 23, Tabata met with his wife and a baby girl. He held her in his arms all night.

The following day, Pereira called 911 and turned in the baby. She has remained in jail ever since.

Days later, Tabata stood before news cameras with his back against a wall and talked about it all.

"This news was one of the hardest blows I have had in my life," he said in Spanish. "I will never be able to forgive her for her cruel actions."

His wife sent him dozens of letters, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He didn't respond.

Instead, he worked his way into the major leagues. He debuted in June with the Pirates and is performing well as a starting leftfielder and leadoff hitter, said team spokesman Brian Warecki.

Tabata continues to work with his attorney to finalize their pending divorce.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Wife of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder pleads guilty to stealing baby in Hillsborough 07/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 11:11pm]

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