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 on Friday of kidnapping and transporting a minor across the country’s borders State for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
The woman, Nicole Eason, 37, was charged after a 2013 Reuters investigation uncovered an illicit network where parents proposed unwanted children to strangers they met online. Eason’s husband Calvin, 46, pleaded guilty to the same charges last month.
Through a practice called private relocation, the Easons had taken custody of at least six boys and girls from 2006 to 2009, lying about their identity to the children’s adoptive parents. Reuters found other examples of relocation across the United States, without government oversight and at great risk to children.
The news agency revealed that the Easons created fictitious credentials. They never revealed that Nicole Eason’s biological children had been permanently removed from custody years earlier, after social workers concluded the couple neglected one child and physically assaulted the other.
As a result of the Reuters investigation, federal authorities arrested the Easons in Arizona last spring. They were charged by the US District Court in Illinois with kidnapping two of the girls they had taken in as part of a relocation – one in 2007 and the other in 2008. They were also charged with taking one of the girls across state lines with the intention of engaging her in sexual activity.
The girl, who turned 8 while in Easons custody, told authorities Calvin and Nicole assaulted and physically assaulted her. The other victim said she was supposed to sleep next to a naked Nicole Eason but was not assaulted.
In both cases, the parents who transferred custody of the children to the Easons had connected with Nicole Eason through Yahoo groups. Parents have used online bulletin boards to discuss their difficulties caring for their adopted children, and Reuters has also uncovered numerous instances in which parents sought to entrust these children to strangers. Over a five-year period, Reuters found that on a single Yahoo group, a child was reported to be relocated 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 and stable family, dedicated to the well-being of the children in their care. In fact, they had lost custody of their two biological children. After authorities removed their second child, a newborn, a deputy sheriff wrote in his report that the Easons “have serious psychiatric problems as well as violent tendencies.”
No US federal law specifically prohibits relocation, and Reuters has found that state laws restricting transfer of custody and advertising for children rarely prescribe criminal penalties and are frequently ignored.
In response to the Reuters investigation, at least six states have adopted new restrictions on advertising to children, transfer of custody, or both.
Reporting by Megan Twohey. Edited by Blake Morrison.