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The family of a missing Chesterfield County woman, disgusted by the FBI's investigation, seeks to fund its own paramilitary operation to bring her home.

Operation Amy

Frustrated by the FBI's failure to find their daughter, a Chesterfield County family says it is raising money to hire armed mercenaries to rescue her from a presumed Caribbean captor — once they are able to identify and locate him, too.

Amy Bradley, 25, disappeared during a March 1998 islands cruise with her family. The effort to find her has been a 17-month descent into the abyss of white slavery, full of bizarre twists, false leads, and what Amy's mother Iva Bradley calls the FBI's bureaucratic sloth, ineptitude and unconcern.

She has sought an internal review of the case and urged investigation of the "cozy" relationship between agents in St. Thomas and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which claims Amy fell, jumped or was pushed overboard.

Iva Bradley also blames Royal Caribbean for what she says have been delays and a lack of cooperation bordering on obstructionism in the case. Last week, the family's lawyers filed an amended negligence suit against the cruise line, and they say they will seek about $5 million in damages.

Amid all the negativism, however, the Bradleys say they recently received the most promising information yet as to Amy's whereabouts. Based on an in-person meeting with one of two men who claim they saw Amy on a remote beach last year, Iva Bradley has made plans for an intensive search and has set up a fund with a nonprofit group to support a hoped-for rescue later.

"This is the biggest, most hopeful sign yet," Iva Bradley says of the latest reported sighting. "It's a very positive situation, and these two guys have identified Amy right down to her tattoo around her navel and her navel ring."

The man told her Amy appeared physically well but unhappy and under the control of two Caribbean men who ordered Amy back to them after she approached and gazed imploringly at the English-speaking men. The witness "said it was a look that touched his soul," Iva recalls.

The men didn't know at the time about Amy's disappearance, but one of them flew to Richmond to meet with the family after seeing reports about her on "America's Most Wanted" in December and "Unsolved Mysteries" in May.

"He's very sincere, credible — he's been checked out," Iva Bradley says. The man contacted "America's Most Wanted," which called the FBI, after the December broadcast, but he was alarmed when he learned from watching "Unsolved Mysteries" in May that she still had not been found. The man then decided to contact the family himself, she says.

FBI sources confirm the details of the possible sighting, but an agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, says "it's just a tough thing to verify," and the investigation has been slowed because of difficulty tracking down suspects and dealing with international red tape.

Iva Bradley calls the FBI's handling of the case a "disgrace" and has contacted its internal investigations office to probe connections between FBI agents in St. Thomas and Royal Caribbean, she says.

Spokeswoman Mary Johlie in the FBI's Richmond office says the bureau is "aware of their dissatisfaction with the investigation. We're going to pursue any leads that we get, this being one of them," she says of the latest reported sighting.

But the Bradleys say they haven't waited for others to find Amy since day one, and won't start now. In fact, they'd prefer the FBI at this point "not do anything because they'll foul it up," Iva Bradley says.

She remembers the FBI's failure to interview a man who reported sighting Amy in Puerto Rico four days after her disappearance. It took nearly a year for U.S. Department of Justice agents working with Interpol to finally interview him, but by then the trail was cold.

Iva Bradley says she will not publicly release many details of the latest sighting or her future plans for fear of tipping off Amy's presumed captor and thereby endangering her or making finding her more difficult. "We're kind of caught" between wanting to raise awareness — and funds for the expedition — and risking disaster. "Our main objective is to keep Amy safe."

What is clear is that the Bradleys are willing to go to whatever legal lengths are necessary to get Amy back — including, Iva Bradley says, hiring "paramilitary forces."

"You know," she says. "The stuff you see on TV."

Iva Bradley says tax-deductible donations to the effort can be made to: The Nation's Missing Children Organization Inc., 2432 W. Peoria Ave., Suite 1283, Phoenix, Ariz. 85029. Checks should include "Amy Bradley" on the memo line, she adds. If Amy is found before funds are expended, they will go to help find other missing children.

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