A Miami grand jury has indicted Estevam Hernandes-Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes, a Brazilian couple who founded the evangelical Renascer em Cristo (Reborn in Christ) Church on charges of false statements and smuggling money into the United States, part of it inside a Bible.
The Hernandeses, who are bishops of the Church they created in 1986 – it has become one of the largest evangelical denominations in Brazil with more than 1200 temples and 2 million faithful – were arrested January 9, in the Miami airport, carrying US$ 56,500 in cash although they filled up their forms telling they had about US$ 21,000.
The couple is expected to be seen today by a federal judge for arraignment. Today's hearing has already been postponed twice from January 24 to January 29 and again to February 6. The first time, due to a request by the prosecution and the second one to accommodate the defense lawyer, Susan Van Dusen, who asked more time to prepare the case.
Hernandes Filho and his wife are named in four and five counts respectively, with each charge punishable with up to five years in jail. An agreement between the prosecution and defense fixed the bail amount in US$ 100,000.
While free on bond they are practically under home arrest since they had their Brazilian passports confiscated and are forbidden to leave the South of Florida. Both are being monitored by electronic surveillance devices placed in their ankles.
In case they are convicted in the US, husband and wife will have to serve time before being extradited to Brazil, where authorities have already filed the necessary papers with the US Justice to put their hands on them.
The church founders are on Brazil's most wanted list, charged with stealing millions of dollars from the church's coffers to buy personal real estate and other assets.
It's believed thought that even if convicted they will not spend more than 21 months in American jails. In case they can prove the money they were hiding is legal they might even escape jail.
Extradition, however, seems certain at this time and all indicates that they will also lose their green cards, a document that proves legal residency in the United States. They also risk as well being barred from the US as tourists, at least for a few years.