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Florida man pleads not guilty to kidnapping his estranged wife from her apartment in Spain

MIAMI — (AP) — A Florida businessman accused in the February disappearance of his estranged wife in Spain pleaded not guilty on Monday after federal prosecutors questioned his sale of several properties shortly before she disappeared, saying millions in proceeds would allow him to flee if he were released on bail.

David Knezevich, 36, entered his plea during a brief hearing at Miami's federal courthouse. He was arrested by the FBI on May 4 at Miami International Airport as he returned from his native Serbia. He is charged federally with kidnapping his 40-year-old wife, Ana Hedao Knezevich, who remains missing in a case that has drawn international media attention. He is jailed without bond.

Prosecutors and Ana Knezevich's family believe the naturalized American from Colombia is dead, though her husband has not been charged with killing her. Prosecutors in court filings have called the evidence against him “strong."

But Jayne Weintraub, Knezevich's attorney, has questioned the evidence and plans to seek his release.

In court filings late last week, prosecutors argued that Knezevich should remain jailed pending his trial, saying he is both a danger to the community and a flight risk.

The Fort Lauderdale resident, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Serbia, sold six South Florida rental homes to one buyer in the month before Ana Knezevich disappeared from her Madrid apartment on Feb. 2. He sold another to a second buyer three weeks after, Broward County records show.

The seven sales grossed $6 million. The sales include David Knezevich supplying large second mortgages to the buyers, an arrangement prosecutors say could give him enough money to flee the country if they were paid off.

Weintraub disputed that, telling The Associated Press in an interview last week that her client has few liquid assets — the second mortgages don't come due until 2027. Those liquid assets he does have are now tied up in a court case filed by his wife's relatives, she said. The couple, who also owned a computer firm, have been married 13 years.

“He didn't get cash” from the property sales, she said. “It is not accurate to say he has access to significant means.”

Ana's family has said the couple’s estrangement had been heated and that she feared him as she fought her husband’s contention he deserved a majority of their assets. Weintraub disputes that, saying it was an amicable split and that the financial arrangements were being worked out.

Ana Knezevich moved to Spain in late December. She disappeared five weeks later after a man in a motorcycle helmet sneaked into her Madrid apartment building and disabled a security camera by spray painting its lens. The man was later seen wheeling out a suitcase. Ana Knezevich is about 4-foot-11 (1.5 meters) and 100 pounds (45 kilograms), according to her driver's license.

Prosecutors say they have strong evidence Knezevich was the man in the helmet.

They say he flew to Turkey from Miami six days before Ana’s disappearance, then immediately traveled to his native Serbia. There, he rented a Peugeot automobile.

On Feb. 2, security video shows him 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) from Serbia in a Madrid hardware store using cash to buy duct tape and the same brand of spray paint the man in the motorcycle helmet used on the security camera, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors allege the man in the motorcycle helmet is the same height and has the same eyebrows as Knezevich and that his cellphone connected to Facebook from Madrid.

License plates that were stolen in Madrid in that period were spotted by police plate readers both near a motorcycle shop where an identical helmet was purchased and on Ana’s street the night she disappeared. Hours after the helmeted man left the apartment, a Peugeot identical to the one Knezevich rented and sporting the stolen plates was recorded going through a toll booth near Madrid. The driver could not be seen because the windows were tinted.

The morning after his wife disappeared, prosecutors say Knezevich texted a Colombian woman he met on a dating app to translate into “perfect Colombian” Spanish two English messages. After the woman sent those back to Knezevich, two of Ana’s friends received those exact messages from her cellphone. The messages said Ana was going off with a man she had just met on the street, something the friends say she would have never done.

When Knezevich returned the Peugeot to the rental agency five weeks later, it had been driven 4,800 miles (7,700 kilometers), its windows had been tinted, two identifying stickers had been removed and there was evidence its license plate had been removed and then put back.

Weintraub said Monday that her client still hopes his wife will turn up safe “and this nightmare” will end.

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