NEW YORK – A cab driver who made headlines this week when he claimed that a passenger had abandoned a baby in his car was arrested Saturday and charged with making up the tale.
Police said the driver, Klever Sailema, was part of a scheme by an overwhelmed Bronx family to abandon the child, who had been born to a 14-year-old girl.
The family's ill-conceived plot to turn the child over the city collapsed late Friday night and several people were under arrest early Saturday.
The baby's mother has also been identified, but will likely not face charges because of her age, police said.
Investigators were still hunting for the child's father, who was believed to be 27 years old, said Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
New York State Federation Of Taxi Drivers Spokesman Fernando Mateo, who had championed Sailema as a hero earlier in the week, said he felt betrayed, but wouldn't condemn the cabbie.
"I am looking at a desperate man who was trying to help a desperate family," Mateo said.
The arrests were a stunning development in a case that had captivated the city after the adorable baby's pictures were published in newspapers and broadcast on TV.
Sailema briefly became a media darling after he dropped the baby off at a Queens fire station Thursday, saying the child, who was about 6 months old, had been left in his car by a stranger.
The cabbie told investigators his fare was a nervous-looking man who had gotten in carrying the baby and a diaper bag, then asked the driver to pull over so he could make a phone call, and promptly fled.
Sailema even provided enough detail about the man's appearance that police released a sketch of the suspect. He repeated his tale to reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Police now say that Sailema was in on the abandonment plot from the start.
Authorities said the driver had been persuaded by his 21-year-old girlfriend, Maria Siavichay, of the Bronx, to help her family abandon the baby. Police said Siavichay's brother was the child's father.
His name has not yet been released.
Sailema was charged with filing a false report. Both he and Siavichay were charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Police said her roommate, Marcelo Vinansaca, 24, of the Bronx, was also charged with obstructing the investigation by giving false information to detectives.