Former Alaska Bush pilot found guilty of international parental kidnapping

The sign outside the federal courthouse in Anchorage along 7th Avenue with the museum in the background
The federal building in downtown Anchorage. (Julia O’Malley/Alaska Public Media)

More than six years after he took his children from Alaska to the Philippines, a former Anchorage-based pilot has been convicted of international parental kidnapping.

A two-day bench trial ended Monday when a judge found 62-year-old Leo James Chaplin guilty.

Up until his move overseas, Jim Chaplin, as he is known, was an Alaska Bush pilot who once made headlines for rescuing a kiteboarder with a floatplane in Turnagain Arm near Anchorage.

According to court documents, Chaplin and his then-wife went on vacation to the Philippines in November 2014.

She said Chaplin abandoned her after a disagreement on their vacation, leaving her to borrow money so she could get back home to Alaska. Court documents from their subsequent divorce and custody proceedings, as well as the federal charges, said Chaplin prevented her from seeing the kids.

The mother, who is originally from the Philippines and has family there, returned at one point to try and get her children back. She said she waited for several hours in the rain outside Chaplin’s new, gated home, only to be told by a security guard that she could not see them.

A state judge in Alaska awarded her custody of the children. Chaplin refused to bring them back, and the judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

Federal prosecutors charged Chaplin with international parental kidnapping in 2017. But the Philippine government does not recognize the Hague Treaty on Child Abduction, so it was unlikely he would be extradited back to the U.S.

Then, in 2019, Chaplin made a trip to California, where he was arrested.

Following his conviction this week, Chaplin faces up to three years at his sentencing, set for April.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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