June 3, 2015 / 10:05 PM / 4 years ago

National Guardsman gets life sentence in case linked to 're-homing'

(Reuters) - An Ohio National Guardsman who participated in an underground network used to send unwanted adopted children from family to family was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for raping and sexually abusing three young girls in his care.

Ohio National Guard Major Jean Paul Kruse is seen in a July 27, 2013 mug shot photo from the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg, Ohio after his arrest on 17 felony counts, including sex crimes against his daughters. Picture taken July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Tri-County Regional Jail/Handout

Jean Paul Kruse, 42, also received 30 months for intimidating a witness: a teenager from Haiti who had been sent to live with Kruse and his wife through the online network.

The Haitian girl, who went by the name Nita Dittenber at the time, had cycled through four homes within two years of being adopted by an Idaho family and brought to America.

Now 19, Nita was not molested by Kruse, but she helped bring to light the abuse of the other children in the household. She was profiled as part of a Reuters investigation into private “re-homing,” an unregulated practice in which parents transfer custody of children they adopted but no longer wanted to strangers met through the Internet.

During a two-week trial last month in the Union County Court of Common Pleas in Marysville, Ohio, the attorney for Kruse argued that Nita and the children were lying about the abuse. The jury deliberated less than two days before finding him guilty of molesting three of the four girls named as victims. Jurors also found him guilty of intimidating Nita by removing her from the home after she spoke out about the abuse.

“This defendant went to great lengths in an attempt to cover up his crimes, and the damage he has done to the victims in this case is immeasurable,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a news release after sentencing. 

Kruse’s wife, Emily Kruse, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, and intimidating the victims and Nita. Her trial is scheduled to begin the week of June 15.

Nita, who testified at the Jean Paul Kruse trial, lived with the Kruses for 17 months - from early 2011 until July 2012. She was 15 when she was sent to live with the family. At the time, Jean Paul Kruse was an information-technology specialist; Emily was a stay-at-home mother. They had a mix of children from previous marriages and overseas adoption.

In a heartwarming profile of the Kruses distributed by the Ohio National Guard in 2008, Jean Paul Kruse explained his desire to adopt from Liberia. “We wanted a girl because they have it so hard there,” the story quotes him as saying. “They are often raped and molested from a very young age.”

Nita told Reuters that, shortly after she arrived to live with the Kruses, the younger Kruse children confided in her that they were being molested by Jean Paul. Nita was terrified to speak up, she said in an interview.

Months later, the Kruses abruptly put her on a flight back to her adoptive parents.

The Kruses no longer live together. Some of the couple’s children remain in the care of Emily Kruse.

Reporting By Megan Twohey in New York. Edited by Blake Morrison

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