OKEECHOBEE – "I need the judicial system to wake up," said Audra Clemons.
An Okeechobee woman has been back and forth to court in an ongoing divorce case for nearly two years even after learning her husband was married to another woman when he said "I do" to her.
Clemons, who filed for divorce from Carlos Alberto Abreu Mendez (aka Carlos Abreu) in 2019, said she has exhausted her finances and can no longer afford a lawyer. She said she has borrowed from her parents, who sold assets to help her.
She doesn’t know what will happen when the case goes back to court on Wednesday, March 31, in front of a temporary judge presiding in Okeechobee. The hearing was ordered as continuation to the original dissolution of marriage filed in July 2019.
Clemons said a warrant was issued by the St. Lucie County State’s Attorney’s Office on Nov. 24, 2020 filing a charge of bigamy against Carlos Alberto Abreu. State Attorney’s Office and St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office officials would not comment on the active case.
Clemons lived in St Lucie County when she met Abreu. She was working for her family’s business, Okeechobee Livestock Market. Abreu told her he was the part owner and manager of a cattle ranch. She described him as “charming and intelligent.” Originally from Venezuela, Abreu reportedly claimed he was a graduate of the University of Miami.
On Sept. 7, 2015, the couple wed in a lavish ceremony in Vero Beach. Family and friends came from other states to attend. Abreu’s parents flew in from Venezuela.
Clemons dreamed of being a mother. She went through fertility treatments and IVF cycles, finally falling pregnant and giving birth to twin daughters on Dec. 21, 2017.
A few months later, it all started to fall apart.
In April 2018, just four months after giving birth to the twins, Clemons said she trusted Abreu with the task of jointly filing their income taxes. As weeks went by and she did not receive the income tax refund, Clemons wondered what was wrong. She finally called the IRS herself. She said she discovered that not only did Abreu not file their joint income tax return, but also that he had never filed any personal income tax returns. Even more of shock: She said Abreu did not have an Individual Tax Identification Number, which non-citizens use to file income taxes.
Clemons said she then contacted US Immigration and Custom Services. She eventually learned Abreu entered the United States in 2008 on a student visa, but never even enrolled in classes. She also confirmed that Abreu never filed the I-130 Petition – the immigration form required to legally live and work in the United States – after marrying her.
Some things started to make sense. For example, Abreu had turned down a trip to the Bahamas and other opportunities to travel. He wouldn’t leave the country. “He knew if he left he would not be able to get back in,” said Clemons.
She said she found out his automobile was registered and titled to a cousin; there was no insurance on the vehicle. Abreu’s driver’s license had been revoked in Florida, she added.
The marriage deteriorated as she uncovered a web of lies. In July 2019, Abreu was arrested for felony domestic assault on Clemons. A few weeks later, she filed for divorce. That same month, Abreu left Okeechobee County.
A few months into the dissolution of marriage procedings, Clemons said she found out Abreu had married another woman – Angelica M. Borrego -- in Hialeah, just four months before their wedding. She asked the court to change the dissolution of marriage to an annulment. However, to date, the 19th Judicial Court still continues to ignore the annulment request, she explained.
“With Zoom court cases, people don’t even have to show up to the courthouse anymore. I saw Carlos twice on-screen in a Zoom chat room in early 2020, but haven’t spoken to him or physically seen him in over a year and a half. His whereabouts have become attorney-client privilege,” said Ms. Clemons.
She said through his attorney, Abreu has asked for overnight visits with the twins. She said she would not keep him from the children, but wants supervised visits. She’s afraid he’ll disappear with the girls and she’ll never see her daughters again. She said Abreu, who apparently has enough money to pay his lawyer, is also demanding money from her. She said he wants her to sell the family home and give him half the proceeds. He apparently used fake identification when they purchased the home, complicating things further. “I’ve had to pay all of the taxes and fees to keep my house,” she said.
“I’m a woman raising two little girls. I feel I have to stand up for them and stand up for myself,” she said.
Clemons said one of the girls is on the Autism Spectrum. Due to the demands of caring for the girls, she has only been able to work part-time.
“It is hard enough being a single mom of twins – one with a disability – and living on a single-parent income. The thought of having to throw more money at lawyers, who after two years seem like vultures, well, that just adds insult to injury. But, hey, it’s March, which is Women’s History Month and there is hope for the first time in a long time, especially with the passing of the Violence Against Women’s Act in The House. I am keenly aware of the climate my precious girls are growing up in, so it’s my job to be their strong role model every day. However, some days, I do feel like equality for women is a joke, especially with this annulment cloud looming over me. Sometimes I worry that my daughters will fall victim to a hate crime, like bigamy, like I did. This makes me realize that I have to keep fighting, not just for me, but for them – for what is right. It’s just really hard,” said Clemons.
Clemons said she decided to speak out about her case in hopes that someone might help her expediently resolve the legal issue.