Colorado History

How a Colorado Boy’s Trip to Mexico Became an International Custody Case

How a Colorado Boy’s Trip to Mexico Became an International Custody Case
Andrew J. Nilsen
On January 6, 2017, Breanne Welch was getting ready to drive to Denver International Airport to pick up her thirteen-year-old son, Kam, whose flight from Mexico was scheduled to arrive around 9 p.m. She was looking forward to giving Kam his Christmas gifts, since he’d left on a two-week trip before the holiday.

But shortly before she planned to leave, Welch received an urgent text message from her ex-husband, Uriel Akiva. It contained very bad news: Kam wasn’t coming back to Denver.

“Call me,” Akiva directed in a follow-up text. When she did, her ex was furious. It wasn’t some great mystery where their son was: He was with his grandfather — Akiva’s dad — in a luxury gated community in Mazatlán. Rather than sitting on a plane, her son was probably watching TV inside his grandfather’s spacious house south of the border, complete with a lap pool, hot tub and cushy address along the front nine of El Cid, Mazatlán’s largest private golf course.

Thousands of miles away, Welch and Akiva felt powerless...and frantic. They contacted their son and his grandfather, demanding that Kam return stateside immediately and reminding both that they had legal custody of the thirteen-year-old.

The situation wasn’t a complete surprise, though. Kam had sent texts hinting that he might not return, and Akiva had responded with a stern warning early on January 6: “My expectation is that you return to Colorado tonight. Your mom will be at the airport waiting to pick you up. You don’t have either of our permission to stay in Mexico… This is one of those moments in your life that you will make a decision that you will not be able to take back. There will be huge unintended consequences for all of us if you refuse to return today.”

Over sixteen months later, those unintended consequences are playing out.

Kam is still in Mexico, against his parent’s wishes. After he and his grandfather stopped responding to almost all calls, texts and Facebook messages, last December Welch and Akiva filed a transnational family abduction case through the U.S. State Department under a Hague Convention treaty that the United States and Mexico ratified in 1980. But the international fight over Kam Mueller is just the latest chapter in a sad, twisting family drama that has a minor Colorado legend at its center.

Kam’s grandfather, Ken Mueller, is a larger-than-life character (over 250 pounds) who’s taken on police departments, the entire political establishment of the City of Golden, and the Coors family. In his heyday, Mueller’s cunning business deals and strong-arm tactics not only turned him into a country-music impresario who owned the legendary Grizzly Rose, but spawned the persistent rumor that he was some kind of double-dealing mafioso.

While Mueller laughs off any reference to mob ties, his real background is more remarkable than any plot line out of The Untouchables, as is the fight over his grandson. Akiva knows that his 75-year-old father is no easy nemesis. But he’s desperate to rescue his son and end decades of destructive family infighting.

“I have to break the cycle,” Akiva says. “It has to stop. I can’t have my son fuck his kids up some day because he’s mad at me for all the things my dad did — and whatever it was my dad came out of.”

click to enlarge Uriel Akiva with Breanne Welch and their son, Kenneth Allan Mueller, a dozen years ago. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
Uriel Akiva with Breanne Welch and their son, Kenneth Allan Mueller, a dozen years ago.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
Kenneth Allen Mueller was born on September 29, 1942, in Oklahoma, but his father, E.J. Mueller, soon moved the family closer to relatives in Chicago. E.J. fancied himself an entrepreneur, taking on a McDonald’s franchise and later investing in a pharmaceutical company; he was successful enough to provide a comfortable life for his six kids.

But things got decidedly uncomfortable when Ken Mueller had to submit a birth certificate in order to participate in a Little League all-star game. According to Mueller’s eldest daughter, Stephanie, that’s how he learned that E.J. was not his birth father. After he demanded answers, his mother, Ann, told him that his real father had been unfaithful to her during World War II; she’d broken off all contact with him and subsequently married E. J. The shock of the discovery complicated Mueller’s relationship with E.J, who was prone to getting nasty when he drank heavily.

Even so, after graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1965, Mueller returned to Chicago to work for E.J.’s pharmaceutical company. Despite their complicated relationship, it was hard for Ken to turn his back on an easy employment opportunity — a pattern his own children would repeat decades later.

Mueller’s first marriage was to a woman named Marge, with whom he had two children, Stephanie and Joshua. Like his parents’ household, theirs could get rocky, too, eventually leading to an acrimonious separation and a cloudy incident that some of Mueller’s relatives still gossip about. There’s no doubt, as criminal records show, that burglary charges were leveled against Mueller in November 1967, though no court case or convictions resulted. (Asked about the charges, Mueller says he has no idea what they were.) And in a situation with eerie parallels to what’s going on today with Mueller and his grandson in Mexico, Stephanie Mueller, who’s now 55 and hasn’t spoken to her dad in nine years, says that same year he surreptitiously took her and Joshua out of her mother’s home — all with the blessing of E.J. and Ann. “I remember that my father kidnapped my brother and myself from my mother, and my grandparents really encouraged it, believing that we would be better off with my father,” Stephanie explains. “From what I understand, she did try to find my brother and me for a couple years and then gave up.”

“They came to check out Boulder because they saw Mork & Mindy. They got there, saw the Flatirons, liked it.”

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Many years later, when Stephanie was 21, her mom suddenly reappeared in her life, after running into one of her aunts in a grocery store. Marge had begged the woman to connect her with her long-lost daughter, but the resulting meeting was a tepid rather than joyous affair. “I started healing from my childhood at the age of eighteen, when I first went into therapy,” Stephanie says. “And to this day, I’m in therapy.” In fact, she works as a therapist in Durango.

With her birth mom out of the picture, most of Stephanie’s childhood was spent under the supervision of a stepmother named Cathy, whom Mueller met through a dating organization, Parents Without Partners, after he left Illinois in 1975 and settled with his two children in Kansas City. Soon after he arrived there, Mueller got into a serious motorcycle accident while on a date with Cathy, when a motorist collided with the bike. While she was unharmed, Mueller suffered extensive injuries on his left side; he sued the driver and wound up with a large settlement, according to Akiva. Mueller married Cathy while he was still in the hospital and, after a doctor suggested that a move west would help his recovery, Mueller and Cathy decided to relocate the family to Boulder. There they’d eventually have three children of their own: Sarah, Anita and Matthew, who later changed his name to Uriel Akiva.

“They came to check out Boulder because they saw Mork & Mindy,” Akiva claims. “They got there, saw the Flatirons, liked it and bought a Tastee-Freez. So we can blame Mork & Mindy for all of that.”

Buying a fast-food establishment proved a shrewd investment. Downtown Boulder was developing quickly during the late 1970s, and the property shot up in value. In short order, Mueller sold the store and used the proceeds to purchase other restaurants in Fort Collins and Greeley. But Golden was his real ticket to a thriving business empire. His purchasing spree in that town began in 1979, when he bought a downtown restaurant and rebranded it Kenrow’s. According to a story in the Golden Transcript in the early ’80s, Kenrow’s followed “Mueller’s basic philosophy about food operations: ‘people want good food at reasonable prices — and they want an abundance of food, so they don’t go home hungry.’”

click to enlarge Ken Mueller started investing in Golden in 1979. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
Ken Mueller started investing in Golden in 1979.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
Having established Kenrow’s as the cash cow in his stable of businesses, Mueller took on additional ventures, including a space next to Kenrow’s that he turned into Shotgun Annie’s Bar, named after his mother. Unlike Kenrow’s, the bar was not universally beloved, and it led to some serious disagreements with Golden officials.

Mueller was “a pain in the ass,” remembers Jim Brown, who served on Golden’s city council for eight years in the 1980s and was mayor in 1986 and ’87. “Ken’s problem was that there were fights happening at his bar all the time. He was the one that started to have lingerie shows. And I told the newspapers at the time that we ought to shut these places down because Golden doesn’t need that image. That brought [Mueller] out of the water like a big fish.”

“If Jim Brown and the rest of Council want Golden to become nothing more than an establishment for the elite yuppies and the super-educated, high-salaried and self-centered, then they can just buy my businesses. That’s not the kind of town I moved to,” Mueller told the Transcript in 1986. “I have $1 million invested in that corner. What does Jim Brown have?”

Not long after that story ran, city officials pulled Mueller’s liquor license for Shotgun Annie’s. To this day, Brown maintains the move was warranted, that Mueller’s bar was a breeding ground for violent and unsavory characters. But Frank Leek, another former city council member and retired barber who rented space from Mueller, says the liquor license debacle was based on bogus charges.

“They said the damnedest things at the license hearing at city council,” Leek remembers, recalling charges that Mueller was allowing drunkards to urinate in public view around his establishment. “But they cited Ken for this one guy that whipped it out and went half a block away!,” he recalls.

Leek hasn’t talked to Mueller in years, but considers him a friend. “He always treated me fair and with respect,” Leek says. “He kept his rent within reason so I could handle it and stay in business. You had to really get to know him before you could understand Ken Mueller, because he was always getting into these crazy situations.”

By “crazy situations,” Leek means fights. When he felt his business interests were threatened, Mueller did not shy away from a brawl. After he regained the liquor license for Shotgun Annie’s, Mueller and the Golden Police Department essentially declared war on one another.

click to enlarge Ken Mueller (above center) had his issues with cops. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
Ken Mueller (above center) had his issues with cops.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
At first, the skirmishes took the form of low-level harassment, like kids pranking each other in a schoolyard. Mueller loudly proclaimed that Golden’s finest were stealing his outdoor lightbulbs, then citing his establishments for inadequate lighting in public areas. To counter that, Leek recalls, Mueller gave cameras to all of his waitresses and waiters at Shotgun Annie’s and Kenrow’s. Whenever a police officer walked into either establishment, the employees would start taking flash pictures of them.

“Well, that made the police department madder than hell, especially because there was no law against it,” Leek says with a chuckle.

In his 2000 book Citizen Coors, journalist Dan Baum describes how the harassment escalated to the point that Mueller was organizing mass demonstrations in front of police headquarters and, in the process, took on Coors. “Everything about Mueller clashed with the culture of the brewery that dominated Golden,” Baum writes. “The trim, restrained, conservative, and thoroughly western men of Coors saw in Mueller a hugely overweight interloper from Chicago who spoke loudly, held liberal views, and disrespected both his adopted hometown and the Adolph Coors Company.”

The bar owner and the brewery were soon on a collision course. As Baum describes it, in 1984 Bill and Joe Coors became obsessed with eliminating perceived — and perhaps imagined — drug use among their hundreds of employees in Golden. They initiated a private crackdown and hired a man named David Floyd to head up an undercover investigation. In the process, Coors set up all sorts of liability — including wire taps, breaking into personnel files that included psychologists’ notes, and in at least two cases, using illegal drugs without the protection of a badge, Baum writes, “so Coors arranged to have four members of the security team deputized [by a judge].”

According to Baum, the cops and Coors’s private security force became convinced that one of the prime spots for drug dealing was Shotgun Annie’s. In an attempt to determine which Coors employees were buyers, the undercover security crew obtained their own stash of narcotics and started staging deals inside Shotgun Annie’s. When Mueller discovered what was happening, he was furious. His fury was compounded by the discovery that his personal attorney belonged to the same law firm that represented the City of Golden and the Coors company.

Mueller decided to sue the City of Golden and Leo Bradley, the head of the law firm, in 1987.

“In his deposition, Leo Bradley did not deny that his law firm advanced money to Coors for the drug investigations, or that one of its lawyers was representing Ken Mueller while the firm was simultaneously helping Coors conduct drug buys that endangered Mueller’s liquor license,” Baum writes.

Mueller received a settlement in the case, and today much of the file is sealed. But there’s no doubt that the “interloper from Chicago” came out victorious. Mueller went on to acquire bigger and more impressive establishments: first, the Buffalo Rose, a mid-sized music club in Golden, and later, what would become the legendary Grizzly Rose.

The Grizzly Rose, legendary country-music club. - ERIC GRUNEISEN
The Grizzly Rose, legendary country-music club.
Eric Gruneisen
While Mueller was fighting with much of Golden, his family was also going through some rough times. He had left Boulder, and he, Cathy and their children lived on McIntyre Street in Golden, in a huge house behind an imposing security gate, made more imposing by the giant pair of Rottweilers that often stood behind it, one of which was named “Butkus,” after Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus.

Like older sister Stephanie, Akiva says his childhood was tumultuous, even though there were advantages to his father’s foray into concert promotion: Akiva got to meet famous musicians. “We took Bo Diddley to Show and Tell at Stober Elementary,” Akiva recalls.

The atmosphere at home was competitive, complicated by a mixture of six children from different marriages. (Jennifer, Cathy’s daughter from another marriage, had also lived in the house, but died after hitting her head.) Akiva remembers always wanting to please his father, but there was competition there, too. He says Mueller flirted with his high school prom date on the night of the big dance, showing off a mountainous pile of cash he’d stacked on the kitchen table. The cash was the spoils from the Grizzly Rose.

Mueller had acquired the property, a 40,000-square-foot country-music club just off I-25, in 1989 through a cunning real estate deal. According to Akiva, Mueller got an insider tip that the building was going to be raided by state authorities because the existing club there, Michael B’s, was reportedly laundering money from other, shadier lines of business. “My dad knew that there was an impending raid that was going to happen, so he bought the place and had the music-club operators sign a new lease,” Akiva says. “Then, when the raid by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation happened, it violated the terms of the lease. So my dad got everything — all the tables, chairs, ice machine, booze. As the landlord, that all became his.”

click to enlarge After moving to Colorado, Ken Mueller (right) began buying restaurants, bars and clubs. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
After moving to Colorado, Ken Mueller (right) began buying restaurants, bars and clubs.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
Playing off the name of his club in Golden, Mueller named this new venue the Grizzly Rose. It flourished.

“He had a view of the clientele: that every person who walks in there is a twenty-dollar bill and that all you have to do is get them through the door and not screw up so that they walk in again,” says Akiva.

Mueller hired bookers with an eye for emerging talent; Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson played the Grizzly early in their careers. He also came up with ideas to diversify the venue’s clientele beyond country-loving cowboys. Every Thursday night was reserved for rock-and-roll bands, for example, and Sundays became family nights, with all-ages tickets and kid-friendly music acts.

“At the Grizzly Rose, the difference between getting rich and getting filthy rich was Sunday family nights,” Akiva says.

Despite his clashes with his father at home, Akiva worked at Kenrow’s and then the Grizzly Rose, where other relatives worked, too.

Akiva got to observe Mueller in his element at the Grizzly Rose. During employee meetings, Mueller would hold court at the end of the bar, drinking his signature drink, “duck farts” — a shot layered with Kahlúa, Baileys and whiskey. “It was like my dad was at the bar with his goombahs all around him, as many as twenty at a time,” Akiva recalls.

"He had a view of the clientele: that every person who walks in there is a twenty-dollar bill and that all you have to do is get them through the door and not screw up.”

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Akiva worked at the Grizzly as a floor manager until one night when his dad threw an empty pickle jar at his head. “I went to my uncle Jerry, who was the general manager at the time, and I told him, ‘Feel the side of my head,’” Akiva remembers.

Jerry felt the lump and asked, “What happened to you?”

Akiva responded, “That’s my two weeks’ notice.”

By the late 1990s, Mueller was spending less time at the Grizzly and instead using his music-industry connections to throw one-off concerts at large-capacity venues, including a Britney Spears show at the Adams County Fairgrounds in 1999. He bought a vacation home in Mazatlán and started spending more and more time there. Along with switching his primary place of residence, he traded Akiva’s mother, Cathy, for Kathy Peterson, a petite blonde 23 years Mueller’s junior. The two married on Valentine’s Day 1997.

A few years later, Mueller suffered a heart attack. Although he recovered, he decided it was time to give up his reign as king of the Grizzly. In 2000, he sold the country-music club to Robert Berliner, who went by the nickname Cowboy Bob. The deal fell through, though, when Cowboy Bob’s partner was found to have a history of bank fraud. As at so many junctures in Mueller’s life, a lengthy and complicated court case ensued. When the legal dust finally settled, Mueller found different buyers for the Grizzly Rose. Today it’s owned by Scott Durland, who did not respond to interview requests.

Liberated from the Grizzly Rose, Mueller was now able to spend as much time as he pleased on the white sand beaches and private golf courses of Mazatlán. His family life, though, would not get any less bumpy — or litigious.

click to enlarge Ken Mueller (far right) expanded his empire to include the Grizzly Rose, which he turned into a legendary country-music club. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
Ken Mueller (far right) expanded his empire to include the Grizzly Rose, which he turned into a legendary country-music club.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
In 2003, Akiva and then-wife Breanne Welch had a baby boy. They named him after his grandfather, Kenneth Allan Mueller, and called him Kam for short.

Like many relationships in the extended Mueller family, Akiva’s marriage was plagued by problems. By the time Kam was in kindergarten, Akiva was largely out of the picture, struggling to define himself and serving for a short time in the military; meanwhile, Welch carried on as a single mother, working to obtain a nursing degree. They later divorced after Welch began seeing another man. According to both Akiva and Welch, their inability to provide a stable home environment is what led to an arrangement they made with Mueller in 2008: Kam would attend first grade in Mexico.

“I said yes to Kam going to Mexico to stay with his grandfather so I could work on my nursing stuff,” Welch recalls. “Kam was sickly as a little kid and had upper-respiratory issues, and so I was missing a lot of school so I could be with him in the hospital.”

The initial agreement was that Kam would spend nine months in Mexico and three months in Colorado. Both parents say the arrangement was meant to be temporary — just one year. But one year stretched into two, which stretched into three. It became harder to cut things off as both Kam and Mueller insisted on maintaining the living arrangement — especially since no one could deny that Mueller was the more stable provider.

Welch knew her son adored his grandfather, but she felt that the adoration came at her own expense. When Kam would visit her in Colorado, he’d be angry with her for reasons she didn’t understand. His behavior also seemed to include a strong whiff of entitlement. “My apartment suddenly wasn’t good enough for Kam,” she recalls. Mother and son would spend their limited time together mostly arguing.

"When I tell people about all of this, sometimes they laugh because it all sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer.”

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Welch was also concerned that Mueller and his wife were becoming unresponsive. “As it progressed longer and longer, Ken and Kathy got to the point where they weren’t answering phone calls anymore, and all of a sudden, Kam hated me and didn’t want to be around me,” Welch recalls. “At the time, I kept trying to tell myself, ‘This is going to be the best thing.’ But, oh, God, it was not the best thing.”

Things got so bad that in 2012, Akiva and Welch agreed it was time to draw a sharp line in the sand: Kam would attend middle school in Colorado.

Mueller didn’t put up a fight, thanks to an unforeseen development that forced him back into an arena he had not planned to revisit: the Jefferson County Courthouse.

In the summer of 2013, Mueller and Kathy Peterson had a falling out, and Mueller kicked his wife out of the house in Mazatlán. Peterson filed for divorce, and in mid-August — with Kam in tow — Mueller flew to Colorado so that he could sort through legal documents with Peterson at the house in Golden. As they went through paperwork, Kam asked if he could use an iPad. Peterson apparently didn’t want the eleven-year-old to play with the electronic device, and things quickly devolved from there. After Mueller and Peterson exchanged foul language, a physical altercation broke out.

Peterson called 911, and Golden Police Department officers arrived on the scene. According to a police report filed on August 15, Peterson claimed that Mueller had pushed her against a wall and struck her with the back of his hand. The responding officers did not see any marks on her face, but noted that she had a 3/4-inch-long scrape on her right ankle; Mueller had scrapes on his wrists and a scrape on his shin. In interviews with officers, Kam was inconsistent in his answers about who had hit whom.

Mueller claims the police report does not accurately portray the extent of his injuries. He maintains that his ex-wife staged the entire incident and beat him up — “She ripped me apart!,” he says. He also points out (and the police report corroborates) that he was first sent to Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge before he was released by doctors and booked in jail. (Kathy Peterson declined to comment, citing fear of retaliation by Mueller.)

As a result of this domestic-violence incident, Jefferson County issued a restraining order that barred Mueller from contact with Kam, and prosecutors charged Mueller with misdemeanor assault. For the next two months, he attended pre-trial hearings in the case, appearing frail and breathing with the help of an oxygen tank.

In October 2013, Mueller and his attorney petitioned the presiding judge to allow Mueller to take a brief trip to Mexico for a medical procedure, part of a stem-cell trial in which he was already participating. Deeming Mueller a low flight risk, Judge Thomas E. Vance agreed to let him go.

The defendant did not come back for his next hearing.

Vance was furious. On January 9, 2014, the judge had the court issue a warrant for Mueller’s arrest, setting the bond at $500,000 cash. Mueller has not been back in Colorado since.

Mueller gives two reasons for his failure to appear. He could not return to Colorado because of his fragile health, he says, and he also suspects that Jefferson County officials are in a conspiracy to retaliate against him for the trouble and lawsuits he inspired back in the 1980s, including his fights with Golden, Leo Bradley and the Coors family. “The judge — Vance — said, ‘I remember you from the ’80s,’” Mueller says. “And I knew I was fucked right then and there. They don’t want me back there in Colorado because they know I’m going to talk in depth about Coors, about all the things back then.”

Asked about the bond amount, Mueller explodes. “Five hundred thousand dollars! It’s like, who the fuck am I?” he exclaims. “Rapists and murderers don’t get $500,000. My ex-wife had one scratch upon her foot! Never in Jefferson County history has anything been set like that.”

While Mueller is incorrect about his historical claim — bonds are sometimes set in excess of $1 million in Jefferson County — the court proceedings certainly had profound implications for his grandson. After the restraining order was issued against Mueller, the courts established that Akiva and Welch shared legal custody of Kam, calling for the boy to split time between his parents in Colorado from late 2013 on. Kam attended Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton for seventh and eighth grade.

While Kam was at first resentful toward his parents for his separation from his grandfather, that resentment was later directed at his step-grandmother. Resentment then turned into action: In 2016, Kam alleged that Kathy Peterson had abused him while he was living with her in Mexico in 2013.

(This was not the first claim of abuse within the family. During the course of reporting this story, Westword heard several other allegations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as confounding claims of intra-family payoffs and accusations that carried serious felony implications. Some of the threats resulted in irreparable consequences: Welch was convicted of witness tampering in connection with an abuse allegation made against another relative, and lost her nursing license in 2015. She hasn’t worked since.)

After Kam accused Peterson of abuse, Mexican authorities requested that he come to Mazatlán to testify. Akiva and Welch eventually decided that Akiva would travel with his son to Mazatlán in the fall of 2016 so that he could give a deposition. While neither Akiva nor Welch say they necessarily believe their son’s allegations against Peterson — Akiva suspects a ploy — they both thought that letting Kam visit his grandfather, whom he hadn’t seen since 2013, might diffuse tension in their own homes. A Colorado judge agreed to lift the restraining order after they explained the situation. Kam and his father traveled to Mazatlán around Thanksgiving 2016.

The visit went well, and after Kam and Akiva returned to Colorado, Kam asked to see his grandfather again that coming Christmas. Akiva and Welch agreed to a two-week visit and bought a round-trip ticket. Thirteen-year-old Kam was to touch down in Mazatlán on December 23, 2016, and return to Denver on January 6, 2017.

Welch was surprised when Kam asked for his Christmas presents early. “You’ll get them as soon as you get back,” she told her son. Then, after thinking a moment, she added, “Promise me you’ll be on that plane.”

“I promise, Mom,” Kam replied.

click to enlarge Ken Mueller (center) was in his element at his clubs. - COURTESY OF URIEL AKIVA
Ken Mueller (center) was in his element at his clubs.
Courtesy of Uriel Akiva
Welch and Akiva reported their son missing on January 17, 2017. The reaction from the Brighton Police Department was not what Welch expected...or hoped for.

“The police laughed at me!” she recalls. “I told them that my son was kidnapped. But the officers told me, ‘Why don’t you just go down there and pick him up?’ And I said to them, ‘You have no idea. I won’t be coming home with my kid, and I might not be coming home at all, because I’ll be in a Mexican jail.’”

Akiva has the same fears about going to Mazatlán. Both parents are convinced that their son and his grandfather will accuse them of some sort of abuse the moment they enter Mexico, and they worry that they’ll get roped into legal proceedings in a foreign country based on false charges. After all, there’s the allegation against Peterson — still unproven — serving as precedent.

“When I tell people about all of this, sometimes they laugh because it all sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer,” says Welch. “It’s not. It’s literally my life.”

The parents soon gave up on Colorado law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, Welch was sending texts and Facebook messages to Kam almost every day, begging him to come home. By the middle of 2017, she’d given up on that, too, since her son had stopped responding.

That’s when Akiva turned to international law to get their son home.

Under the Hague Convention of October 25, 1980, on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 98 nations are currently bound by a multilateral agreement that establishes a legal procedure families can use to have children who are being held in another country returned to them. Between 2,000 and 3,000 such applications are filed each year. According to the Hague Convention’s latest published statistics, 2,270 applications were filed for a child’s return in 2015, of which 45 percent were granted. Three percent of the total cases involved grandparents as the “taking person.”

“My dealings with the Mexican government down here, although limited and few, have been straightforward and aboveboard."

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Since Kam is a minor and his parents have legal custody of him in the United States, the situation fell under the treaty as an international family abduction case. On December 13, 2017, Akiva filed an application with the U.S. State Department, which handles Hague Convention filings and passes the applications on to recipient countries. It was a confusing process, and Akiva was handed off between various state department employees, but eventually the case got traction. On March 14, Kam was served with legal papers in Mazatlán and his passport was confiscated by Mexican authorities.

Livid, Kam contacted both of his parents for the first time in six months.

“And I had words for him, too, saying that I’m frustrated!” Welch recalls. “I want him to understand that we’re all guilty in some way, shape or form — I own that — but he’s been brainwashed. He thinks his grandpa roped the moon. And the problems he has in his life are all because of his grandpa.”

Mueller places the blame elsewhere. During a long phone conversation with him on May 3, the 75-year-old claims, “This is all thanks to Matthew — or Uriel — or whatever the fuck his name is this month.”

Mueller says that he is protecting Kam and caring for him in a way that his parents couldn’t in Colorado. “With Kam, it would be a trivial statement to say I love him. I’m all he’s got,” Mueller explains. “Kam is asking for — for lack of a better word — his freedom from being with his parents. This really doesn’t concern me. You have to understand that I’m really just like an outsider looking in.”

According to Mueller, he wasn’t planning on having Kam stay with him permanently, but on Christmas Day 2016, Kam broke down crying, describing how he felt neglected, abused and lonely in Colorado.

“And so I told Kam, ‘I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I don’t have any custody of you. And you can’t give custody to me. And I’m not coming back to fight with someone in Colorado, because I can’t fly due to my heart illness,’” Mueller recalls. “I told Kam, ‘First, you have to call your parents. And if you stay down here, you have to do certain things: make good grades in school, and you’re going to go to a psychologist, and we’re going to get the best one in town. Because even if this is completely normal in your head, this is abnormal. So we need a counselor to walk you through the situation.’”

Asked about Welch and Akiva’s concerns that Mueller might do something underhanded if they came to Mexico, such as level abuse charges, Mueller bristles. “What, do they think I’m El Chapo? They’re just full of shit,” he says. “My dealings with the Mexican government down here, although limited and few, have been straightforward and aboveboard.”

All his son is interested in, he adds, “is money.” And in fact, on September 17, Akiva sent this letter to his siblings regarding “Our Father”:

“Inheritance is the one thing that binds us together. Let me take this moment to inform you that…those who are hoping for a cash windfall will be sorely disappointed…. I will be pursuing civil torts against our father. Intentional inflection of emotional distress would be hard to prove, except for the excellent recordings that I have. Spiking the football after kidnapping someone’s child is a bad idea. Every dollar of his assets will be either seized or squandered during this fight. I have no doubt that if he feels cornered, he will kill himself or just give up and die. … The old man could be dead right now, or he could die in a week, a month or a decade. May we all learn from his mistakes and live better lives than him.”

The recordings Akiva mentions in the letter are tapes of phone conversations he had with his father last July, in which Mueller says that Kam will not be returning to Colorado.

That position was reiterated on April 20, when Mexican authorities held a Hague Convention hearing in Mazatlán. Mueller was not able to attend because of poor health, but Kam and an attorney presented his desire to remain in Mexico “Kam’s lawyer told me, ‘It’s over, don’t worry about it,’” Mueller says.

Akiva also had a Mexican lawyer at the hearing, but according to Mueller, Akiva’s attorney was not properly accredited. (Judging from Akiva’s ongoing email correspondence with the state department, there was considerable confusion about transferring power of attorney because Akiva refused to go to Mexico himself.)
At the end of the conversation, Mueller offers to have Kam call when he’s home from school. Kam calls at 3 p.m. the next day, May 4.

Asked if he’s being forced to talk and whether he’s alone, the fourteen-year-old says he is making the call voluntarily and that his grandfather is in another room.

“I love it down here. I've spent almost my entire life down here. All of my friends are here.”

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He has a paid flight voucher that he can use to fly to Colorado whenever he wants to, he says, but right now he’s where he wants to be. “I love it down here,” Kam explains. “I’ve spent almost my entire life down here. All of my friends are here.”

Although his high-pitched voice is sweet, the call turns ugly. Kam lists serious allegations against Peterson, then against both of his parents for abuse and neglect. “I’ve never had a relationship with my parents, and I don’t want a relationship with them. I’d be fine with never seeing them again,” Kam concludes.

This was part of the minor’s testimony at the April 20 hearing, and according to Hague Convention rules, his personal desires hold weight:

“Where appropriate, having regard to the abducted child’s age and maturity, the wishes and feelings of the child should be explored at an early stage of the return proceedings and, where a return is ordered, should duly be taken into account when considering how best to implement the return.”

In some instances, the child’s wishes are outweighed by the arguments by relatives advocating for his or her return, but that’s not always the case. In 2015, 35 children involved in 27 applications were not returned because the children’s objections were the sole or partial reason for refusal. The average age of an “objecting child” was eleven years old. Kam turns fifteen in September.

click to enlarge Uriel Akiva today. - ANTHONY CAMERA
Uriel Akiva today.
Anthony Camera
On May 16, nearly a month after the hearing, Judge Sergio Escobar Medel of the judicial district of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, issues his decision: Kam can remain in Mexico.

The twenty-page ruling cites Kam’s desires to stay there, as well as his grandfather’s claims that Akiva and Welch are unfit parents. As evidence, the judge mentions Instagram photos from Welch’s “303dreadedprincess” Instagram account, purportedly showing her smoking marijuana from glass pipes and, in at least one photo, a bong.

Akiva notes that the Mexican ruling does not mention Mueller’s outstanding arrest warrant in Colorado or his $500,000 bond. “My big takeaway is that, apparently in Mexico, Instagram photos of marijuana are grounds for losing custody of your child, but being on the lam makes you an honored guest,” he says. “From where I stand, the only reason that the court would ignore the American courts and cite Instagram is because they were paid by my father.”

He plans to appeal.

“I one hundred-percent believe my child was robbed from me,” Welch says. She and Akiva worry that their son doesn’t have the life experience to understand what’s going on, much less a full understanding of the troubled Mueller family history to provide context. Still, they acknowledge that their relationship with their son is extremely damaged. Both know that Kam will need extensive therapy if he’s ever returned to them.

“It’s not irreconcilable, but it’s going to be a long, hard road,” Welch says.

“He has no idea about the emotional distress this has caused me and his mother,” Akiva adds. In this complicated saga, though, it seems that no one is without an agenda, perhaps even a vendetta. Akiva hopes the appeal will go through, that he and Welch will be reunited with their son and their nightmare will have a happy ending. But he also can’t help being cynical about the way things have gone in the Mueller family.

“You know, my father always had a favorite phrase: Blood is thicker than water,” Akiva says. “What a joke.”
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker