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N.M. man praises loving 'kidnappers'

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A young New Mexico man issued an emotional defense Friday of the couple he knows as his parents, who are accused of having kidnapped him as a baby after a bid to adopt him went wrong.

Matthew Propp, 22, praised the couple who raised him in Albuquerque after fleeing New York with him as a 15-month-old.

"My parents are the people I've known for 22 years. They're the people that loved me, cared about me, have always taken care of me and have always made sure I had everything I wanted and needed," he told reporters.

He was speaking after the man he knew as his father, Bennett Propp, surrendered to prosecutors in New York City this week under his real name, Barry Smiley.

Barry and wife Judith, who went by the name Mary Propp for the past two decades, have told authorities they ran away from New York with Matthew in 1980 after a judge nullified their adoption of the boy.

Matthew Propp, born Anthony Joseph Russini, said the Smileys had told him the truth of their flight from New York last August.

"Kidnapping is a pretty harsh word. . . . I'm very happy with the way I grew up and very happy with the people I grew up with," he said.

Propp family attorney Fred Martinez said the two runaway parents had come to him several weeks ago to arrange a surrender to New York authorities, which he said they had planned for years.

"They also promised to themselves and Matt (that) when he was old enough they would come forward and come into the light of day and reveal the situation that brought them to New Mexico," Martinez said.

Barry Smiley was jailed in New York City on $25,000 bail after pleading not guilty to a charge of kidnapping on a warrant issued in 1980. Smiley's wife was still in Albuquerque recovering from knee surgery. If convicted, they could each face up to 25 years in prison.

Martinez said Matthew Propp met his biological father and mother, Anthony Russini and his ex-wife Deborah Gardner, last week in a reunion arranged by prosecutors. The two had spent thousands of dollars searching for the boy after he was taken.

Barry Smiley has told prosecutors he and his wife left Queens with the boy on June 6, 1980 after a judge ordered them to return the child to his biological parents.

That decision followed another court's ruling that nullified the adoption based on a finding that Gardner's father coerced her into giving up the baby immediately after it was born.