Source: CNN

Federal investigators accuse a south Florida man of traversing two continents, stealing license plates and obscuring a security camera to kidnap his estranged wife at her apartment in Spain earlier this year. But the man and his former attorney say he has never stepped foot in Spain and have insisted he is innocent.

David Knezevich, 36, was arraigned and pleaded not guilty on Monday to a kidnapping charge in federal court in Miami – four months after his wife was last seen in Madrid, according to court records.

His wife, Ana Maria Knezevich Henao, has not been heard from since February 2, the day a man wearing a face covering and helmet – who prosecutors allege was Knezevich – entered her apartment building in Madrid and spray-painted the lens of a building surveillance camera. About an hour later, the man emerged from an elevator with a suitcase, according to the criminal complaint.

Before Knezevich’s arrest in Florida in May, his attorney at the time, Kenneth Padowitz, told CNN that his client “has never been to Spain” and had nothing to do with the incident.

But investigators allege Knezevich has been tied to the crime using the can of spray paint, security camera footage, stolen license plates and rental car records, as well as messages he sent to a woman he’d met on a dating app.

If convicted, the husband faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

How FBI investigators built their case

Knezevich’s current attorney, Jayne C. Weintraub, filed a request on Monday to the court for a hearing on the court’s order of detention, asking to cross-examine an FBI agent regarding new evidence and allegations in the case since a detention hearing last month.

The couple had lived in Florida and were planning to divorce, but the separation had become tense because Knezevich didn’t want to evenly split their assets, the criminal complaint said. Padowitz, however, told CNN in February that the split was amicable.

Henao had moved to Spain in December and had been living in an apartment in an apartment in Madrid’s upscale Salamanca neighborhood, court documents said.

When Henao disappeared from her apartment in February, Knezevich was far away in his native Serbia, Knezevich’s former attorney Padowitz has said. But federal officials said records show Knezevich flew from Miami to Turkey in January and then went to Belgrade, Serbia, where he rented a small car on January 29.

The owner of the rental car agency told investigators that when the car was returned in mid-March, someone had tinted its windows and added a new license plate frame, and it had traveled nearly 4,800 miles, the criminal complaint said.

Toll booth cameras captured images of the same model Peugeot, with tinted windows, near Madrid in the late night and early morning of February 2 and 3. It had license plates stolen from another vehicle on the Madrid street where Henao was living, the complaint said.

Shortly after 9 p.m. the night of Henao’s disappearance, a man wearing a face covering and helmet but with “physical characteristics” resembling Knezevich entered her apartment building and partially obscured the surveillance camera with spray paint, investigators said.

Spanish investigators identified the brand of spray paint and determined that a Madrid retailer had sold the same paint, along with two rolls of duct tape, to a man who resembled Knezevich the same day Henao was last seen, the criminal complaint said.

Henao, a US citizen originally from Colombia, was in constant communication with her loved ones while overseas. She was planning a trip to Barcelona with her friends on February 5, her brother told CNN, but she abruptly stopped communicating and never showed up for the trip.

Two days before the trip, her friend Sanna Rameau received a puzzling WhatsApp message from Henao indicating she was abruptly leaving town with a man she had just met.

The message, seen by CNN, read: “I met someone wonderful!! He has a summer house about 2h (hours) from Madrid. We are going there now and I will spend a few days there. Signal is spotty. I’ll call you when I get back.”

Henao and Rameau had spoken by phone just hours before her disappearance but she had not mentioned meeting a dreamy stranger, Rameau told CNN.

Investigators allege the texts sent from Henao’s phone were really sent by her husband. He is believed to have asked another Colombian woman whom he had met on a dating app to help translate the messages into Colombian, court documents said.

The message he sent to the unidentified Colombian woman to translate was the same one sent from Henao’s phone saying she’d met a new guy, court documents said.

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