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Plea deal in connection with kidnapping of elderly NY couple

James Helm Sr. and Sandra Helm
James Helm Sr. and Sandra Helm
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 6:50 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - A plea deal has been reached in connection with a bizarre international kidnapping of an elderly couple from their Moira, New York home. And now for the first time, we’re hearing from the family involved.

James Helm Jr. is the son of the kidnapped couple, Sandra and James Helm Sr. He is also the father of Mackenzie Helm and husband of Michelle Helm. They both just pleaded guilty to drug charges, which prosecutors say is connected to the kidnapping.

I talked to James Jr. about what his family went through when his parents were taken and how he feels now that the drug case is over.

“I thought maybe they were just off somewhere and then later in that same day I got a phone call from, I believe an FBI agent, saying they were definitely missing. So, immediately I booked a flight home,” James Helm Jr. said.

Helm was in Georgia for work last September when he got the call his parents were in danger. His family was terrified.

“They were all scared,” he said.

His parents were last seen on a Sunday at their Moira home. Then investigators say Graigory Brown of Plattsburgh and four others broke in and kidnapped them. They smuggled the elderly couple into the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation, took a boat north along the St. Lawrence River and held them in a home in Magog, Quebec.

Nearly a year later, they are still coping.

James Helm: They are doing good.

Reporter Kelly O’Brien: Are they still shaken up?

James Helm Jr.: They are, I’m sure that will be something that will be with them for the rest of their lives now.

A week after the abduction, we learned Helm’s wife and son, Michelle and Mackenzie, were arrested in a South Burlington drug bust.

“Mackenzie thought he was moving marijuana or picking up money,” James said.

In court paperwork, the DEA says they watched a rented van travel from the Best Western to the Doubletree parking lot with Michelle and Mackenzie Helm inside. They saw the van meet an SUV and the driver handed over a duffle bag. The affidavit says the duffle bag had 500 grams of a substance with a detectable amount of cocaine. James doesn’t believe it.

“There was no cocaine in the bag. It was just a bag they put in the van,” he said.

Four days after that arrest, his parents were kidnapped. Authorities believe the kidnappers took the couple because they never got their drugs from Mackenzie and Michelle.

Now, Mackenzie and Michelle are pleading guilty to federal conspiracy to distribute marijuana. For Mackenzie it’s three years in prison; his mom gets three years probation.

James feels these sentences are too harsh and says his family had nothing to do with the kidnapping of his parents or the cocaine charges.

“I just think things got mentions that he had nothing to do with,” he said.

Helm tells me his family still lives in fear the Canadian drug traffickers will retaliate against them.

When I asked why he came forward now, nearly a year later, Helm said he wanted to come forward sooner to help prove the innocence of his wife and son, but their attorney wanted him to wait until the plea deal was done.

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International kidnapping of New York couple stems from Burlington drug bust

FBI: Kidnapping of elderly Moira couple drug-related

North Country couple targeted in international kidnapping case

FBI: Missing northern NY couple found safe

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