NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 26: Cars and pedestrians pass along Broadway in Times Square February 26, 2009 in New York City. Broadway, the world-famous thoroughfare that covers the length of Manhattan, will become a pedestrian walkway around Times Square as the city attempts to curb congestion in the theater district. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The father of a doe-eyed girl who captured the hearts of New Yorkers when she was abandoned two years ago with the help of a taxi driver has been charged with statutory rape of the baby's mother, police said Friday.
The case grabbed headlines when a livery cab driver left the baby, who was who was about 6 months old, at a Queens firehouse.
The driver, Klever Sailema, was initially hailed as a hero after telling authorities the child, Daniella, had been left in his cab. Officials showed off the little girl — dressed in pink, with a bow around her head — at a press conference while trying to find her relatives.
Sailema told investigators that a nervous-looking man got into his cab carrying the baby and a diaper bag, then disappeared after asking him to pull over so he could make a phone call. He took her to the firehouse, where doting firefighters played with her and changed her diaper while awaiting a medical checkup. Police released a sketch of the supposed suspect.
Two days later, police declared Sailema had made up the story and had plotted with his girlfriend — Daniella's aunt — to abandon her. Both were charged with criminal facilitation; Sailema also was charged with falsely reporting an incident.
Attorneys for the couple said they were only trying to help the baby. Prosecutors eventually agreed, and decided to have the case dismissed.
"Everything was falling on ... my shoulders," an apologetic Sailema said at the time. "I only thought about the child."