Nun enters not-guilty plea in false-imprisonment case

TAVARES — A lawyer for Laura Maria Caballero entered a not-guilty plea this morning on behalf of the Eustis woman better known as Sister Mary of the St. Filumena Catholic Church, who is fighting criminal charges that she took a 2-year-old girl without her parents’ permission.

With TV crews milling outside the Lake County Judicial Complex awaiting Sister Mary’s arrival, Umatilla attorney Ron Fox addressed (Lake) Circuit Judge Mark A. Nacke for Caballero, who was not required to be present and did not show up.

“She is not guilty,” Fox told the Orlando Sentinel as he left the courtroom.

Caballero, whose church is not affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, faces felony charges of false imprisonment and interfering with child custody charges after, Lake County deputy sheriffs say, she took off with 2-year-old Maria Lopez-Vazquez and kept her away from her parents for more than six months.

The child and her parents, who reside in Eustis, were reunited Feb. 2 at Orlando International Airport after she returned from Argentina. Fox said Caballero arranged and paid for the child’s return to the United States.

He said Caballero has been portrayed unfairly as a “child-snatching nun.”

“I don’t mean that you guys — the media — slants it,” Fox said. “I mean what (information) you get is slanted. The Sheriff’s Department has a public-information officer, a paid spokesman. Sister Mary doesn’t.”

Caballero was arrested last month when she arrived in Miami from Argentina.

She is free on $10,000 bond. The next scheduled court date is March 24.

On Friday afternoon, investigators with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the St. Filumena Catholic Church property on South Eustis Street in Eustis, where Caballero works and resides.

Detectives have not publicly identified the evidence they collected.

The search-warrant affidavit and an inventory of the items seized by deputies were not available Tuesday from the Lake County Clerk of Courts, which maintains the records. Officials said deputies have not yet filed the documents.

Fox said he hoped to obtain a copy of the warrant’s affidavit to learn more about the probe.

LCSO officials have said that they were interested in learning more about Caballero’s involvement with other families and children. At least four other individuals have approached sheriff’s detectives with concerns about Caballero and her involvement with children since news of her arrest surfaced earlier this month.