TAMPA — The woman accused of posing as an immigration officer Monday to kidnap a Plant City baby once masqueraded as a crime victim to cover up a $20,000 embezzlement scheme.
In September 1999, Amalia Tabata Pereira staged a robbery in Temple Terrace at the title loan company where she worked, court documents show. By then, she had already created dummy accounts, sold car titles illegally and pocketed people's payments.
She served as lookout while an accomplice set incriminating files on fire. When an officer arrived, she gestured as if someone had a gun to her head. No suspect was located.
According to court files, she pretended to be upset and allowed her bosses to keep paying her for months, until she finally broke down under the pressure of their suspicions and confessed.
"We really did trust her," Garrett Benthod told a judge at her December 2000 sentencing.
Pereira was convicted of arson, forgery, uttering a forged instrument, grand theft, grand theft auto and filing a false crime report.
Her attorney argued that she was a compulsive gambler, that she needed care, not prison. She admitted to doing illegal things to feed her habit and letting her family and job suffer for it.
Her teenage children and her mother wrote letters depicting her as a hardworking, remorseful single mom.
But the judge didn't bite.
"It doesn't appear that remorse came until charges were filed," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway said.
Pereira spent two years and nine months in a state prison.
Now, her 20-year-old baseball player husband says he is shocked at her new charges.
• • •
People are baffled by Pereira. Why was she smiling in her mug shot? Why would she steal a baby? Plant City police say they still have no motive.
And her husband, Jose Tabata, issued this statement after the St. Petersburg Times broke the news on tampabay.com that they were married:
"I am hurt, frustrated and confused by her actions. I have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials in any way that I can. Until I have all of the facts, I cannot comment any further."
The bizarre story began Monday afternoon when a woman approached 30-year-old Rosa Sirilo-Francisco as she left the Plant City Health Center with her newborn daughter after a routine baby checkup.
The mother told authorities the woman, who called herself "Janet," posed as an immigration official and said that if Sirilo-Francisco didn't want her family deported, she should give the baby to her.
Six hours later, Sirilo-Francisco contacted police and told them that her daughter had been kidnapped.
By midnight, after overcoming the language barrier between police and Sirilo-Francisco, Plant City officers issued an Amber Alert.
The following afternoon, authorities fielded tips pointing to Pereira in Bradenton. She surrendered the baby.
Pereira was charged with interference with child custody, kidnapping, false imprisonment and impersonating a social service worker.
Her bail was set at $750,000.
As she spent Tuesday night in a Manatee County jail, a team source said her husband could get no sleep in a dorm in Bradenton's Pirate City, where his minor league team is in spring training. He plays for the Altoona Curve, a AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Wednesday morning, he didn't follow his fellow players to the field for drills. The team gave him the day off.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly said law enforcement assured the team that Jose Tabata had no involvement in the alleged kidnapping.
"Jose was as shocked as the rest of us upon hearing the news and has cooperated fully with law enforcement officials," Coonelly said.
Records show that in January 2008, at age 19, the rising star married the felon and mother of four.
The ceremony took place in an Amscot.
Times staff writer Chandra Broadwater contributed to this report.