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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Updated: March 25, 5:09 PM ET
Tabata's wife suspected of taking baby

ESPN.com news services

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- A 2-month-old is back in the arms of her parents, and the wife of a top Pittsburgh Pirates minor league prospect is suspected of taking the infant from a health clinic outside Tampa, authorities said Tuesday.

Amalia Tabata Pereira, 43, was being questioned by Florida detectives in Manatee County, where the baby girl was found unharmed Tuesday afternoon, a day after she was taken from the clinic. Plant City Chief of Police Bill McDaniel said authorities are looking to charge Pereira with false imprisonment.

She is the wife of Jose Tabata, 20, an outfielder and one of the top three prospects for the Pirates, who train in Bradenton, which is in the county where the infant was found. In a statement, Pirates president Frank Coonelly said they have received "no indication that Jose is believed to have had any involvement in this matter."

Jose Tabata addressed the matter in a statement released by the team.

"I was shocked to be told today that my wife has been arrested for kidnapping. I am hurt, frustrated, and confused by her actions," Tabata said. "I have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials in anyway that I can. Until I have all of the facts, I cannot comment any further."

I was shocked to be told today that my wife has been arrested for kidnapping. I am hurt, frustrated, and confused by her actions.

-- Jose Tabata

The Pirates said in a statement that they were standing behind Tabata.

"Jose was as shocked as the rest of us upon hearing the news and has cooperated fully with law enforcement officials," Coonelly said in the statement. "The Pirates organization will continue to do anything and everything we can to assist and support Jose during this difficult personal time."

Sandra Cruz-Francisco was taken from her mother, Rosa Sirilo-Francisco, about 3 p.m. ET Monday by a woman her family knew only as "Janet," Plant City police said.

Sirilo-Francisco had taken her baby for a checkup at the Plant City Health Department, where she met Janet, who said she was an immigration official, Sirilo-Francisco told The Tampa Tribune. The woman told Sirilo-Francisco that there were officers at her home waiting to deport her and the child's father to Mexico.

Janet offered to help, but said she had to take the baby.

The two women drove with the infant to a farm where the child's father works, and Janet told him the same story. The mother later handed the child over.

Plant City police Capt. Darrell Wilson couldn't confirm the mother's account of events.

"We believe that may have been the story, but we haven't spoken with the suspect," he said.

Investigators now believe Janet and Pereira are likely the same person. Wilson said Pereira has a criminal record that includes theft and fraud convictions and that police did not have a hometown for her because she has several aliases.

"We don't know if it's an isolated incident or not," he said.

There were conflicting reports regarding exactly how the infant was found.

Plant City police said Pereira turned herself and the baby in to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office early Tuesday afternoon. But authorities in Manatee said Pereira was detained after an anonymous tipster called police to report that a woman on a street corner in downtown Bradenton had information about the missing baby.

When deputies responded to the scene, the baby was found and a woman was detained.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they have launched an investigation. A spokesman wouldn't say whether Pereira worked for the agency, citing the investigation. Wilson, with the Plant City police, said they don't believe she does.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.