By Megan Twohey
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Arizona couple who used an underground online market for acquiring children has been charged with kidnapping two minors and transporting one across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity.
The suspects, Nicole and Calvin Eason, came to authorities' attention as a result of "The Child Exchange," a Reuters series in 2013 that exposed how Americans were using Yahoo message boards, Facebook groups and other online sites to "re-home" unwanted children.
The stories showed how parents were privately transferring custody of their adopted children to strangers met on the Internet. The Easons had taken at least six boys and girls in this manner while lying about their identities, the series showed. Nicole Eason's own two biological children had been permanently removed from her care earlier, police reports showed, after social workers concluded she had neglected one child and physically abused the other.
Following the series, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation of the children re-homed to the Easons. In April, the Easons were arrested in Arizona and taken into federal custody on felony charges filed in Illinois. A federal grand jury in Illinois indicted the couple on the charges Wednesday.
Calvin Eason's attorney declined to comment. Nicole Eason's attorney could not be reached.
According to an April affidavit by an FBI agent, Nicole and Calvin Eason allegedly kidnapped two of the children, a boy and a girl, in 2007, and sexually abused the girl, who turned 8 while in their custody.
In both cases, the adoptive parents had given their child to the couple after connecting with Nicole Eason through a Yahoo message group, where people discussed adoption frustrations and sometimes arranged custody transfers. Yahoo removed such message boards in 2013, after Reuters brought them to the company’s attention.
An adoptive parent of the girl alleged that the Easons, living in Illinois at the time, presented themselves as a loving, stable family, dedicated to the well-being of children in their care, according to the affidavit. As part of the custody transfer, the Easons promised the parents to provide proof that social workers had signed off on the suitability of their home, but never did, the affidavit said.
The boy and girl were removed from the Eason home by another member of the Yahoo group, who had come to suspect the Easons could be dangerous. The girl disclosed the alleged sexual abuse in an FBI interview earlier this year, according to the affidavit. The boy told the FBI he was not abused.
No U.S. federal law specifically prohibits re-homing. State laws that restrict custody transfers of children rarely prescribe criminal sanctions and are frequently ignored.
Since the Reuters series appeared in late 2013, however, at least five states have passed new restrictions on advertising the availability of children, transferring custody, or both. Lawmakers in those states noted that the absence of government safeguards can result in children ending up in the care of abusers.
The original series can be read here: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1
(Edited by Michael Williams)