A 38-year-old Harrisonburg, Va., man who advertised on the Internet to adopt a "young boy who needs a dad," paid a family in Ohio as much as $400 for their 14-year-old son, according to court papers filed in the case.
The August transaction allegedly unfolded in front of the child, who later told authorities his parents had also exchanged some of his siblings for, among other things, a swing set, new shoes and clothing, according to court papers filed in Ohio.
Social service workers in Stark County made the claims in court last week in an effort to remove the boy's five siblings from the family's home. The allegations appear to be based largely on what the 14-year-old told authorities and assertions made by a social service worker.
No charges have been filed against the child's parents or the Harrisonburg man, although the allegations are under investigation by the FBI, local police and Ohio social service officials.
The boy's parents, whose phone has been disconnected, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The Harrisonburg man, contacted in Ohio, denied making any payment in exchange for the youth.
The Washington Post is withholding the names of the Virginia man and the Ohio family to protect the identity of the children.
An FBI supervisor in Ohio said yesterday that the agency has been looking into the allegations for several weeks. "We're concerned about the Internet aspect of it," Mitchell Marrone said. "We've not made a determination about any illegalities." But, Marrone noted, "It's illegal to sell people."
The bizarre tale began in July when the Virginia man placed an ad on Yahoo!, an Internet search engine.
"I am a single white male professional, in the Security Services Field," the ad said. "I own my home and have room in my home and heart to give a place to a young boy who needs a dad. I lost my son in 1996 and want to raise another to be a Godly and A responsible young man. I am educated above high school. If you know of a way for this dream to come true email me ASAP."
The man, who said he supervises private security guards, listed an address in Harrisonburg, 130 miles west of Washington, where he said he has lived seven years.
The boy's parents, who live in Alliance, outside Akron, responded to the ad, according to court papers. The Harrisonburg man said he communicated several times with them by e-mail before traveling to Ohio on Aug. 27 to pick up the boy.
The teenager told authorities the man paid $300 to $400 for him, according to the papers filed in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division.
But the Harrisonburg man said the boy concocted the story. "There was no money exchanged whatsoever," he said. "This is tearing me up because I didn't do anything wrong." He said he is in Ohio to clear his name.
The man said he posted the ad because he had been in foster care and wanted to "give back to a child." He said his own son, then 13, died in 1996 from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic.
Authorities allege the man and the Ohio youth's mother conspired to "cover up the fact that the family sent [the boy] to live with a virtual stranger." The boy's mother said that if anyone inquired, they would say her son was living with his grandfather in Virginia, the court papers said.
Social workers in Virginia became involved last month after the youth was committed to a psychiatric center for threatening to shoot himself in the head with a gun owned by the man, according to the filings.
Social workers took the boy back to Ohio, where he was placed in foster care. Officials also placed five of his siblings in foster care because of concern over their well-being, said Judee Genetin, an official with the Stark Department of Human Services.
Genetin said several other children in the family previously had been adopted. The 14-year-old told authorities that his parents received money and other items when his siblings were adopted.
Court papers allege that the children lived in "deplorable" conditions, "had chronic lice" and smoked. One of the little girls is said to have told social workers that "Santa Claus brought the kids cigarettes for Christmas."