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Human trafficking

'She doesn't have a voice': They took her daughter on unfounded claims. Then they kept her.

Vero Beach, Florida, resident and business owner Supee Spindler, a Thai immigrant, was living the American dream. Then a former employee made an allegation.

Laurence Reisman
Treasure Coast Newspapers

Editor's note: TCPalm Opinion editor and columnist Laurence Reisman has followed this case since the spring of 2022, facing numerous roadblocks for public records and interviews in the process. This is the first in a series of columns.

Never give up.

It’s a theme in the lives of Thailand natives Supee Spindler, 71, and her mentally disabled daughter, Nisarat Jittasonthi, 49.

While not an uncommon theme, relatively few people are challenged by the disturbing chain of events involving federal agents that unraveled the lives of the successful owner of a therapeutic massage business in Vero Beach, Florida, and her daughter in early 2021.

After many years apart while Jittasonthi lived with her aunt in Asia, Spindler brought her daughter to the United States in 2014. Joining them was Spindler’s other daughter, Supaporn “Poi” Naknukool, 41. With a doctorate degree in biochemistry, Naknukool worked at food science companies in Fellsmere and Deerfield Beach before returning to Thailand to raise her own family in late 2019.

That’s when Spindler and Jittasonthi moved into a new, $400,000 home west of Vero Beach. Spindler came to the United States in 2006 with Christian missionary Bob Spindler, her husband, who died in 2012. A teacher, then licensed masseuse in Thailand, Supee Spindler attended college in Port St. Lucie to get her license in Florida before starting her own business in 2009.

She was living the American dream, working as a U.S. citizen while trying to help Jittasonthi get acclimated to the United States by having her do tasks around the business, such as putting linens on massage tables. Spindler also tried to get her daughter English lessons and put her in adult education programs.

From left, Nisarat Jittasonthi and Supaporn Naknukool, Supee Spindler's daughters, and Naknukool's boyfriend, Kuanmongkol Patumarat, right, flank Spindler in an undated picture taken at Squid Lips in Sebastian.

Beginning of a nightmare

It wasn’t easy, as Jittasonthi, who Thai officials said in 2015 suffered from five disabilities, struggled to learn English. It was tough to find places where her daughter, who a U.S. doctor said communicates in Thai like a 3- to 6-year-old, could socialize with others, Spindler said.

Spindler brought dolls, posters and flashcards into her home to help Jittasonthi, who also has a speech impediment. Eventually, she learned to write her name in English.

Their nightmare began in 2021.

Her daughter was taken:No charges, feds mum. Court stymies Vero Beach woman's efforts to see daughter

Vero Beach police said a woman speaking limited English appeared in their lobby that Feb. 19, claiming she had worked at Spindler’s Thai House of Therapeutic Massage and was concerned Spindler “may have been taking advantage of” and possibly struck an “intellectually disabled” employee.

The woman gave police letters she said were handwritten in Thai by Jittasonthi. The letters described abuse of Jittasonthi by Spindler, the complainant said.

Three days later, police were contacted by an official with the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles, claiming the former employee had sent the center similar notes alleging verbal and physical abuse of Jittasonthi. Among the complaints: Spindler held Jittasonthi’s passport and ID, police said.

That Feb. 24, community development center officials said the letters sent to Los Angeles suggested "possible labor trafficking,” police said.

Mother, daughter separated for more than a year

None of the initial police reports noted Jittasonthi was Spindler’s daughter or her mother was her caretaker.

Vero Beach police contacted Homeland Security Investigations. On Feb. 25, law enforcement officials showed up at Spindler’s business.

Jittasonthi answered the door, police said, adding, “She was crying and visibly upset.”

Without her mother present, police put her on the phone with an official from the Thai Center in Los Angeles. Then Jittasonthi was taken by police to housing arranged by Catholic Charities in West Palm Beach, police said.

More than a year later, Spindler told me she had not seen her daughter in person since and no one would let her know where her daughter was.

I started looking into the case in March 2022 after receiving an email from one of Spindler's clients. The story he relayed sounded too outrageous to have happened in this country.

The next month, Spindler told me she was shocked by the complaint made by a Thai woman she tried to help by giving a job, but had to let go because of licensing issues. Spindler cooperated with authorities, allowing them to search her home and business, records show.

How did this happen?Supee Spindler explains how police took her mentally disabled daughter in 2021

Business owner doggedly tries to find daughter

A column I wrote at the time noted Spindler had hired three Vero Beach attorneys – Andrew Metcalf, Julia Graves and Jimmy Benincasa – in an effort to cooperate with authorities and bring her daughter home.

Metcalf, a criminal defense attorney, represented Spindler during investigations by the Florida Department of Children and Families and Homeland Security.

“None of (the allegations) had any basis in truth,” Metcalf said, adding Spindler was “nothing but cooperative. (Investigators) thought they had something, but they had nothing.”

No charges ever were filed.

Spindler was dogged in trying to get her daughter back.

In April 2021, Spindler said she got several calls from a woman identifying herself as a case worker from Catholic Charities in West Palm Beach. Spindler got to speak with her daughter, who said she was in a room by herself with a TV, washer, dryer, four sets of outfits and a thin blanket. She was provided three meals a day and could leave the room only to throw out garbage, according to notes provided by Spindler. Jittasonthi told her mother authorities said she'd have to remain there for six months.

The case worker, Spindler said, reported Catholic Charities would get Jittasonthi disability benefits. Spindler told the worker she was more interested in getting her daughter quality of life with family, and she would cover Jittasonthi's expenses.

Spindler was able to, through a Catholic Charities facility in Vero Beach, send personal items and cash to her daughter's case worker to buy Jittasonthi food, a doll house and CBD oil she used to stem seizures. Spindler also sent money so the caseworker could take Jittasonthi to a Thai restaurant and to a hair salon.

In June, Jittasonthi told Spindler on the phone she decided to live with the charity. They'd be able to find her a job and make "easy money," Spindler said, suspicious of who told her daughter to say that.

In early August 2021, the case worker said she would no longer be in touch with Spindler.

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Lawyer: 'It's like the shell under the coconut.'

Later that month, Graves filed a lawsuit seeking to get the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Catholic Charities to return Jittasonthi. The attorney alleged that the agencies “unlawfully” detained Jittasonthi and deprived her of “her freedom for invalid and illegal reasons.”

DCF responded it did not have her, adding that investigations into abuse claims were “not substantiated."

Catholic Charities admitted housing Jittasonthi, reporting she did not want to return to her mother.

In December 2021, Circuit Judge Janet Croom dismissed the case, saying she did not have jurisdiction because Jittasonthi was in Palm Beach County. Graves then tried to file a similar case in Palm Beach, but learned Jittasonthi was no longer there.

“It’s like the shell under the coconut,” Graves said in April 2022 of authorities’ efforts to move Spindler's daughter then not tell anyone where she was.

Before she was taken, Benincasa tried to help Spindler get Jittasonthi back to Thailand for social services and to spend time with her brother and sister before returning to the United States.

By mid-2022, Spindler had spent tens of thousands of dollars – part of savings she hoped eventually would support Jittasonthi – on legal fees, private investigators and other expenses.

She had contacted her state and federal representatives, none of whom could help her find her daughter.

Supee Spindler, owner of the Thai House of Therapeutic Massage in Vero Beach, looks through items in her daughter's room on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. In February 2021, Spindler's daughter, Nisarat Jittasonthi, was taken from her after she was accused of human trafficking and has not seen her daughter in over a year. No criminal charges have been brought against Spindler.

I spoke with some of the several thousand customers Spindler said she and her employees have served over the years.

“She is a sweet lady,” Steve Schwartz said of Spindler, adding she’s an excellent massage therapist. “She’s always there to help and share and give to people who are not feeling well.

“It doesn’t make sense at all,” he said, noting "Nungning," Jittasonthi's nickname, was always nice, seemed well-loved and happy to be working with her mother. “She never looked abused or taken advantage of.”

Metcalf was disturbed by the feds' intransigence. They have not provided me, Vero Beach police or Spindler’s attorneys with handwritten notes Jittasonthi reportedly wrote.

“(The feds) pride themselves on the fact they don’t have to answer questions until there is a federal lawsuit,” he said.

Spindler's biggest problem

Before I wrote that 2022 column, Metcalf pointed out Spindler’s biggest problem.

“Supee doesn’t have a voice,” he said, noting the government has allowed her daughter to vanish into thin air. “Someone needs to help her.”

After my column was published, a friend referred her to Vero Beach attorney Gary Rooney.

NEXT: The Rooney law firm comes up with a strategy to locate Spindler's daughter. Read the full series here.


This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman and was first published in TCPalm. Contact him via email at, phone at 772-978-2223, or on X: @LaurenceReisman

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