Son missing for 20 years discovers second family

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Amid the courtroom battles over a high-profile kidnapping case that spans two decades, a 22-year-old man is stuck in the crossfire — emotionally tied to the defendants who raised him as their own son and related by blood to a family supporting the prosecution.

“It’s been an interesting last six or seven months,” Matthew Propp told a news conference after the man he considers his father surrendered March 7 to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown on kidnapping charges and was released on $25,000 bail Monday.

Propp was raised by Barry and Judith Smiley, formerly of Jamaica Estates, who used the names Bennett and Mary Propp when they moved with Matthew to Albuquerque, N.M., Brown said.

But the Smileys did not tell Propp his true identity until last fall, according to their family lawyer, Fred Martinez.

Martinez said the Smileys always intended to tell Propp about his background when he came of age.

“This is a tragedy for both parents,” Martinez said. “It is difficult for everyone involved, but we all must keep in mind that what is in the best interest for Matt is paramount.”

Anthony Russini, Propp’s biological father, was thrilled to finally meet the son he had been searching for since he was a baby, but he said he understood that Matthew had formed a bond with the Smileys.

“It was amazing,” Russini said of the meeting with his oldest son. “It was a fantastic feeling, after all those years of constantly, constantly looking. That’s what I always dreamed of.”

Richard Russini Sr., the young man’s grandfather, said: “I grabbed him and gave him a big hug right away.” Anthony Russini said Propp looks like his brother, Christopher.

Richard Russini Jr. said his nephew told him it was great to walk into a room where everyone looked like him.

Propp grew up believing that he was an only child but has since met his siblings, Christopher and Jenn, whom he said “are both great.” The children were born after Russini and his biological mother were married in 1980.

Propp has not spoken with his biological mother, who was divorced from his biological father, but he said “if she contacts me, that would be fine.”

He said Sunday that he hoped he would be able to look back on everything that has happened these past few months and feel good it.

“I’ve bettered from it as far as the fact that I’ve got my family in New Mexico and new people to support me in New York,” he said.

Propp had begun training to be a police officer in New Mexico when he discovered his true identity, but he said he has put those studies on hold in order to support the people he has always considered his parents.

“When this is all taken care of, I’ll pursue it again,” Propp said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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