PAXTON — Michele Frakes said she was worried when her ex-husband failed to send their two daughters to Paxton-Buckley-Loda for school.
But she became terrified when she realized her ex-husband, Michael Hari, had disappeared with their two daughters.
Ten months later, Frakes was reunited with her girls, Mollie Hari, 15, and Allene Hari, 13, with the help of television personality Dr. Phil McGraw. McGraw convinced Michael Hari, a former Ford County sheriff’s deputy and sheriff’s candidate, to return to Ford County.
Frakes, who now lives in Peoria, was in Paxton on Thursday, testifying against Michael Hari, 34, who is being tried on charges of felony child abduction.
If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison, according to state’s attorney Tony Lee.
In Thursday’s court testimony, Frakes’ attorney, Kathleen Finney of Rantoul, said that Frakes asked Judge Steve Pacey for custody of the girls in March 2005 because they frequently failed to show up for school.
Both Hari and Frakes had agreed in November 2004 that the girls would attend public schools unless both parents agreed on an accredited Christian school.
The state’s attorney said that Hari joined a religious sect, called the Old German Baptist Brethren, that believes that girls should have no formal education after the eighth grade.
“Michael was not sending them to any school,” Frakes said.
Hari had been scheduled to appear at a hearing on the custody petition on April 6, 2005, but he did not show up.
Lee said that Hari did not appear because he was in Mexico with the girls, headed for a 2,000-acre Mennonite colony in Belize, Central America. Therefore, Frakes was awarded legal custody of the girls, although they were with Hari.
“I had no idea where they were for the next 10 months,” Frakes said Thursday.
Hari’s attorney, Neill Schurter of Rantoul, argued that there was no child abduction because Hari believed he still had custody of the girls and because Hari was never personally served notice of the judge’s decision awarding custody to Frakes.
Schurter said there is no evidence that Hari took the two girls to Central America against their will.
Frakes said that her ex-husband was supposed to bring the girls to her home in Peoria on April 1, 2005, but they never showed up.
“I got a call from Michael,” she said. “He told me, ‘We’re running late. We’ll be there in a few hours.’ They never arrived in Peoria, and that was the last I heard anything from them.”
Ford County sheriff’s investigator Patrick Duffy said the missing children were reported to the National Crime Information Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The case was also featured on Court TV and the Fox television series “America’s Most Wanted.” Schurter asked Duffy why he didn’t issue an Amber Alert for the girls.
“The Amber Alert was not used because there was no indication that the children were in danger,” Duffy testified.
Duffy said he enlisted the help of Harold Copus, a former FBI agent and an investigator for the nationally syndicated Dr. Phil show.
Copus, who was scheduled to testify today, tracked Michael Hari to Belize.
McGraw then convinced Hari to return to the United States in February. Frakes was reunited with her daughters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Judge Pacey was expected to rule today on whether the jury will be allowed to view portions of the Dr. Phil show in which McGraw interviewed Hari.
Schurter argued that McGraw’s crew edited a 90-minute interview into approximately five minutes for broadcast.
He alleged that some of Hari’s televised comments may have been taken out of context due to editing.