Child-rape case shows safeguards failed
Agencies’ screenings didn’t detect adoptive dad accused of raping 3.
By Mark Gokavi, Kyle Nagel and Kelli Wynn
The disturbing case involving the alleged rape of three boys by their adoptive father, who also allegedly prostituted one of the boys to two other men, unfolded despite safeguards designed for adoption agencies and prospective parents.
Kenneth H. Brandt, a 39-year-old from Troy, adopted three children from Texas and was adopting a fourth child when he was arrested last month. Brandt, who had a clean record when police in Miami County took him into custody, is facing three counts of rape and one count of compelling prostitution.
Brandt worked with a private, nonprofit agency named Adopting Children Today Information Option Network (ACTION) Inc. A Texas official said that in the past seven years, 28 adopted children from that state have been placed in homes through Dayton-based ACTION.
“We all know that no matter what happens, there are people who can get around the system,” said Mary Anne Cole, executive director for Access for Youth, Inc., a foster care and adoption agency in Riverside.
Brandt was familiar with the foster care system. Miami County confirmed Friday that four foster children were placed in his home between November 2006 and August 2007.
Those children included a 15-year-old boy who later was moved to a group home.
Montgomery County officials said they placed two children in Brandt’s care for a week when he was a foster parent for that county from May 2008 to October 2009.
It is not known whether Brandt housed other children besides those six and the four who were living with him until his arrest. The FBI and local authorities are investigating.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, called the Troy case “horrible.”
“This case stands out because of what appears to be a systematic way that this guy was exploiting foster children in a particularly reprehensible way,” DeWine said.
Authorities were able to track down Brandt and fellow suspects Patrick Rieder and Jason M. Zwick as a result of an Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigation involving criminal activity on Craigslist. An undercover detective responded to an ad and made contact with Zwick, who eventually introduced the detective to Rieder and Brandt, who was arrested Feb. 24.
Brandt had three boys ages 12, 10, and 9, and a girl, 9, under his care.
Brandt, of 1045 N. Nutmeg Square, is in Miami County Jail on an $800,000 bond. In addition to the Miami County charges, he has been charged in Montgomery County with one count of rape and four counts of complicity to commit rape. Brandt’s preliminary hearing in Miami County is 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Rieder, 31, of 408 E. Sixth St. in Dayton, and Zwick, 29, of 3620 Sequoia Drive in Beavercreek, have both been charged with rape. Rieder is being held in the Montgomery County Jail on a $1 million bond, while Zwick is being held in the Miami County Jail on a $500,000 bond.
Greene County authorities seized computer equipment from Zwick’s home and Dayton police took electronic equipment and other items from Rieder’s apartment. Beavercreek officials said any charges would come after that material is searched.
Local agency used
ACTION, located at 6000 Philadelphia Drive, is called a tight-knit, supportive group by its officials.
“Our mission is to place children in the foster care system into loving, adoptive homes,” founder Patricia A. Hill said in videos posted on YouTube. “I’m the adoptive mother of 22 children and that’s pretty much what I do in my spare time.”
ACTION has been certified in Ohio since 1998. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has received three complaints about the agency. The ODJFS would not describe the nature or timing of the complaints.
ACTION’s attorney released a statement Friday saying that the agency follows all state laws and practices and that its officials cannot comment about Brandt’s case.
“ACTION complies with and follows the rules and regulations in the cases that it’s involved with,” attorney Jeff Rezabek said. “And pursuant to those rules and regulations, we’re unable to make any further specific comment on any of the cases or any of the children that we’re involved in. ACTION is cooperating and in contact with all the appropriate parties in this matter.”
Troy Police Capt. Chris Anderson said Friday that ACTION officials reached out to the police department after Brandt’s arrest and confirmed that agency officials are cooperating with the investigation.
In several YouTube videos, ACTION details much of the process its families go through to adopt foster children. Those steps include an application, FBI and BCI background checks, medical statements, vaccination records for pets, fire inspection, 36 hours of training, a home visit and a safety audit.
On a blog, ACTION President Darin Joliffe-Haas described himself as a private music teacher, playwright, musical theater director and band booster who works with the Beavercreek High School show choir.
In a video, Joliffe-Haas said he is a single father who has adopted boys from Texas, Oregon and New Mexico and was adopting another boy from New Mexico.
Recertified in 2011
Agencies of this type are certified by the state for a two-year period. ACTION’s current certification runs through February 2014. Rezabek said the agency’s last recertification process was in November 2011.
The ODJFS does not interview adopted children when reviewing whether to recertify private adoption agencies, instead focusing on paperwork. Benjamin Johnson, an ODJFS spokesman, said the criteria for recertification is spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code.
The process consists of a number of reviews to determine whether an agency is in compliance with Ohio Administrative Code, including: entrance interview; interviews with a random sample of foster and/or adopt parents; interviews with staff, including the adoption assessor who completes home studies for prospective adoptive parents; review of foster and adoptive records for training, criminal background checks and other requirements; review of personnel records; policy review; audit; issuance of a final report of findings of noncompliance if any; and exit conference with agency.
Robert Crimmins of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the interstate adoption process Brandt used is a fairly common practice.
He said that Ohio, Texas and all other states are members of the Interstate Compact Agreement and that each state has an Interstate Compact for Placement of Children office (ICPC), which is responsible for notifying other states of potential placements, and to seek and give approval for such adoptions and ensure requests are handled by the appropriate staff.
Crimmins said that the TDFPS is reviewing the Brandt case.
“So far, all of the appropriate steps appear to have been taken,” Crimmins said. “We’ve reviewed the contract and have found no past problems. (Texas has) adopted several of our children through this agency.”
In a 2007 newsletter, ACTION Adoption stated that the agency received 12 percent of its placements from Texas in 2006.
Private adoption agencies work with county and out-of-state agencies to find children eligible for adoption, according to Cole, from Access for Youth.
Sometimes individuals looking to adopt will search online galleries of children eligible for adoption and ask a private agency to help them with the process.
For example, if a child is in the custody of a county, then the county is responsible for matching the child with the proper household. The child is placed in the applicant’s home for at least six months before the adoption is finalized.
“We do case management during that six months,” Cole said.
There is no further case management once the adoption is final and private agencies will not intervene unless an adoptive parent requests assistance.
Costly to adopt
It can cost anywhere between $1,500 to several thousands dollars to use a private adoption agency to secure a child, Cole said. Costs can reach into the tens of thousands for overseas adoptions.
Adopting through a private agency requires a great deal of paperwork and rigorous background checks.
“We do our best to check as much as we can to make sure this is a safe environment,” Cole said.
The process also includes a two-part interview, in the home and at the agency’s office.
If the applicant has met state criteria, the agency will recommend to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that the applicant receive a foster parent license or adoption certification or both, Cole said.
Private adoption agencies also are supposed to check their applicant’s financial situation. Brandt owned Brandt Insurance Services, LLC, but he did not have an insurance agent license, according to the Ohio Department of Insurance.
“We’re making sure that the subsidy that they are receiving through adoption is not paying for something else,” Cole said. “We don’t want people to do this as an income.”
Miami County Children Services Director June Cannon said her agency pays a lower subsidy per diem than some other public or private agencies and that the amount depends on the age and situation of the foster child. In general, the pay is between $21 and $27 per day.
Cannon said some private agencies pay between $30 and $70 per day. Foster children also are covered by Medicaid. Government per diem money can come from federal, state and local sources.
University of Dayton political science professor Tony Talbott, whose research interests include human rights, said the Troy case is one example of a widespread problem.
“I’m looking at the news coverage, and the residents of Troy are shocked and appalled, which they should be, but they really shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “This is something occurring throughout the state of Ohio, throughout the United States and internationally.”
Initially, the Dayton FBI planned to pursue federal charges against the three men but now will focus on further investigation.
Officials said all the safeguards, regulations and the good intentions of people aiming to provide a safe, loving home for foster children don’t always work.
“In a normal case (involving sexual abuse), someone close to the child, in the same family, is having sexual relations,” said DeWine. “It’s all bad.