By Megan Twohey
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A woman who used the Internet to take in unwanted adopted children faces years in prison after a federal jury convicted her Friday on charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
The woman, Nicole Eason, 37, was charged after a 2013 Reuters investigation exposed an illicit network where parents offered children they no longer wanted to strangers they met online. Eason’s husband, Calvin, 46, pleaded guilty last month to the same charges.
Through a practice called private re-homing, the Easons had taken custody of at least six boys and girls from 2006 through 2009, lying about their identities to the children’s adoptive parents. Reuters found other examples of re-homing across the United States, with no government oversight and at great risk to children.
The news agency revealed that the Easons had created fictitious credentials. They never disclosed that Nicole Eason’s biological children had been permanently removed from their custody years earlier, after social workers concluded the couple had neglected one child and physically abused the other.
As a result of the Reuters investigation, federal authorities arrested the Easons in Arizona last spring. They were charged in U.S. District Court in Illinois with kidnapping two of the girls that they took in through re-homing - one in 2007 and the other in 2008. They also were charged with taking one of the girls across state lines with the intent to engage her in sexual activity.
The girl, who turned 8 while she was in the custody of the Easons, told authorities that both Calvin and Nicole molested and physically abused her. The other victim said she was expected to sleep next to a naked Nicole Eason but was not molested.
In both cases, the parents who transferred custody of the children to the Easons had connected with Nicole Eason through Yahoo groups. Parents used the online bulletin boards to discuss their difficulties caring for children they had adopted, and Reuters also found many cases in which parents sought to offload those children to strangers. During a five-year period, Reuters found that on a single Yahoo group, a child was advertised for re-homing on average once a week.
Yahoo removed the message boards after the news agency brought them to the company’s attention.
Living in Illinois at the time, the Easons presented themselves as a loving, stable family, dedicated to the well-being of children in their care. In reality, they had lost custody of both of their biological children. After authorities had removed their second child, a newborn, a sheriff’s deputy wrote in his report that the Easons “have severe psychiatric problems as well as violent tendencies.”
No U.S. federal law specifically prohibits re-homing, and Reuters found that state laws restricting custody transfers and advertising of children rarely prescribe criminal sanctions and are frequently ignored.
In response to the Reuters investigation, at least six states have passed new restrictions on advertising children, transferring custody, or both.
(Reporting by Megan Twohey. Edited by Blake Morrison.)