District of Montana | Texas woman admits to lying about her son and grandson’s whereabouts in Sanders County parental interference investigation

MISSOULA — A Texas woman today admitted to lying to law enforcement about the whereabouts of her son and grandson, who were ultimately found in Costa Rica during an investigation into parental interference in Sanders County, US Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Candace Kathleen Bright, 68, of Midland, Texas, pleaded guilty to false testimony during a video court appearance from Midland, Texas. Bright faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years under supervision.

US Judge Kathleen DeSoto presided. A sentencing date has been set for May 31 before US District Judge Dana L. Christensen. The court will determine the sentence after considering US sentencing guidelines and other legal factors. Bright was released pending further trial.

The government claimed in court documents that on August 19, 2021, Bright’s son and co-defendant Jacob Israel Strong failed to return his four-year-old son to his ex-wife at the end of his visit. Sanders County Sheriff’s Deputies have been unable to locate Strong or his son. Sanders County charged Strong on August 31, 2021 with criminal parental interference. The FBI launched an investigation to assist Sanders County in locating Strong and the child. The FBI has interviewed Bright a number of times, including on October 4, 2021, when the agent told Bright that it was a crime to lie to a federal official. Bright replied, “I know.” The government went on to claim that Bright repeatedly lied to the agent, telling him she didn’t know where Strong and her grandson were and hadn’t seen them since around August 17, 2021. In December 2021, Bright called the case agent and continued to deny knowing the whereabouts of Strong and her grandson.

In January 2022, the FBI learned that Strong and his son had left the United States near Midland, Texas around October 2021 and traveled through Mexico to Costa Rica. The FBI also learned that Bright had been hanging out with Strong and her grandson on and off since August. Bright was aware of Strong’s whereabouts throughout all of her discussions with the FBI and was physically present when Strong and her grandson left Texas for Costa Rica. Bright communicated regularly with Strong via encrypted messaging services installed on both cellphones. Bright’s lies to the FBI added to the time and expense of finding Strong and his son. Had Bright been honest with the FBI, Strong and his son would likely have been found in the fall of 2021. Instead, based largely on Bright’s false statements, Strong was not arrested until May 22, 2022, nine months after he eloped with his son. Strong has pleaded not guilty to the case and is facing trial.

First Assistant US Attorney Timothy J. Racicot and Assistant US Attorney Brian Lowney are prosecuting the case, which has been investigated by the FBI.