Chamber Of Secrets

A Pregnant Mother Goes Undercover To Keep Custody Of Her Children

This story originally aired July 2, 2005. It was updated Aug. 2, 2007.

Frieda Hanimov's American dream was once a big house in a swanky New York neighborhood. It's a world away from the poverty where she grew up.

Her parents fled Russia, emigrated to Israel, and at the age of 19, this young nurse made her way to America. Just a few weeks later, she met the man she would marry, Yury Hanimov, whose business was diamonds. They would have three children, Yaniv, Sharon, and Natti.

Life was good. But after 13 years of marriage, Yuri announced to his wife that his business was failing. The dream house had to be sold, and they moved to a small apartment in Brooklyn.

Frieda says her husband told her they had to pretend to divorce. She claims it was part of a scheme to hide their assets. "He gave me diamonds," she says. "He told me that it's worth over $6 million. He told me not to show it to anybody."

"They shine. They're gorgeous," adds Frieda, showing correspondent Lesley Stahl the diamonds, in a broadcast that first aired in 2005.

But one day, Yury didn't come home. Frieda says he just disappeared with his clothes, and was unreachable by phone. And the diamonds? "Zircon," says Frieda.

The diamonds were fake, but the separation papers Frieda signed were real. And she says she had unknowingly signed away her rights to any of her husband's assets.

"This is a crime. What he did to me was a crime," says Frieda, who hired a lawyer to try to stop the divorce.

She pinned her hopes on the wisdom of a New York State Supreme Court justice, Judge Gerald Garson. "He would see that this is a set-up," she says. "And you know, a woman married to her husband, a mother of three, will get her rights."

But when she walked into his court, her hopes were shattered. "The judge tells me that I better settle this case and I don't have any chances," says Frieda. "He told me if I'm not gonna settle, I'm gonna end up in jail."

The judge chastised her for renting an apartment she co-owned with her husband, without his permission. Stunned by the judge's behavior, Frieda says she saw no choice but to agree to the divorce.

"I said, 'To hell with the money. I'm a nurse. I'll make it. As long as I have my kids, I'll just continue with my life. It's not the end,'" Frieda recalls.

Two years later, Frieda fell in love, got married and became pregnant.

Frieda says her ex-husband got jealous, and began trying to convince the children they would have a better life with him. Her 13-year-old son, Yaniv, liked the idea.

One night, when Frieda came home from work, her ex-husband called the police on her. "[They said,] 'Your son said that you hit him with a belt,'" recalls Frieda.

Yaniv was standing outside with his father, and told the police his mother had beaten him with a belt three days earlier. Frieda says her son had a fresh red mark on his face, one that looked like it was new: "My ex-husband pointed to my son and said, 'You see? You see the red line? This is mommy hit him with a belt.'"

She says she has no idea how the red mark got on her son's face: "I don't know. Kids play basketball, they jump. I don't know."

"I never hit my kids. Never ever. I'm against it," adds Frieda. "My kids are well dressed. Very clean. Honors in school. I'm proud to be their mother."

Frieda was arrested, and at that point, she says her son protested. "He said, 'No, no, it was a misunderstanding.' Then he went to my ex-husband and started hitting him and saying, 'Daddy, you lied to me. You said they're not going to hurt Mommy,'" recalls Frieda.

"They put me in a cell with, I will say, 30 to 50 people. Me shaking. Pregnant," says Frieda. "Sitting and crying and I can't believe my son did this to me. It's for no reason. I never hit my son."

Then the news got even worse for Frieda. Her ex-husband filed for custody; he wanted all the children. And the man deciding the fate of her family was Judge Garson.

  • Rebecca Leung

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