For years, the state sent Bethel foster parents Marilyn and Peter Tony a steady stream of children whose own parents were violent, incarcerated, mentally troubled or too broken by alcohol abuse to provide care.
Now newly released foster care records show that child welfare officials had reason to believe Peter Tony himself posed a threat to the children long before he was charged with criminal sexual assault.
As a carousel of children cycled through the home over a 14-year span that ended in 1998, so did complaints that some were being sexually abused by the foster father sanctioned by the state to provide a safe place, the records show.
Child protection workers praised the Tony family's willingness to take children with mental disabilities and emotional damage.
But at least three times during his years as a foster parent, Peter Tony was accused of molesting or abusing girls in the home, according to a Daily News review of hundreds of pages of foster care documents released this week by the state Office of Children's Services in response to the newspaper's records request. He was investigated another time over a complaint he was drunk while watching a foster child. And two other cases mentioned briefly in the records don't specify whether he or Marilyn was being investigated or what the complaint was all about.
In all, one or both of the Tonys were investigated at least six times as foster parents, the records show. Peter Tony also was accused of sexual abuse by two stepdaughters before the couple was licensed to take in foster children, one of the daughters, Kimberley Bruesch, has said.
Time after time, the old Division of Family and Youth Services, the precursor to OCS, dismissed the complaints. Only in 1998 did the agency substantiate sexual abuse involving a girl whose mother was dead and whose father was incarcerated. The division removed all the foster children, never to place any there again.
But according to Bethel police, that didn't stop Tony, now 69.
The Tonys, who had built a reputation as respected foster parents, then opened an unlicensed home day care.
Just last year, Tony preyed on a 4-year-old girl in the day care, according to a police statement filed in Bethel Superior Court.
Now Tony is jailed on charges in two separate cases out of Bethel. In a case filed in June, he faces seven felony counts of sexual abuse involving the 4-year-old. In the other, filed earlier this month, he was indicted on three felony charges for abuse reported back in 1998 by the girl in the foster home. She was 12 at the time.
There is no indication that any of the older reports were reexamined once DFYS confirmed sexual abuse.
OCS: BETTER SYSTEM
Christy Lawton, Office of Children's Services director, was not available to answer questions Thursday, according to OCS spokeswoman Susan Morgan.
The state agency says it is doing what it can to help the tiny Bethel Police Department investigate a complex series of cases stretching back to the 1970s when the stepdaughters were young. It has been searching its archived files to identify children who may have been victims and to determine what action was taken.
"The span of time under review is over the course of three decades," the Department of Health and Social Services, which includes OCS, said earlier this month in a written statement. "That era in child welfare in Alaska and around the nation lacked standardization, operated under far fewer mandated federal requirements and policies than at present, and did not include the level of oversight or standardization that it does today."
Before the Tonys first were state-licensed for foster care back in 1984, Bruesch and another of Peter Tony's stepdaughters reported to OCS's predecessor, the old Division of Family and Youth Services, that he had molested them, Bruesch, now 48 and living in Ketchikan, has said. Two of her sisters killed themselves as young women and the younger of them in part blamed Tony in her suicide note, Bruesch said.
No charges were brought against Tony back then.
The newly released investigation records are incomplete and lack detail. The state withheld separate investigative reports, citing laws that keep many child abuse matters cloaked in confidentiality. Many of the records concerned relaxing the rules to allow the Tonys to take in children above their licensed number, and information about payments from the state under its foster parent program. The Tonys received extra compensation for especially challenging children, more than $2,000 a month per child in some cases.
Some records lack context.
In 1992, DFYS social worker Mary Atchak wrote to the Tonys that a possible sex abuse case from 10 to 12 years earlier was closed as unsubstantiated. That possibly was the stepsister matter: Bruesch says she and her younger sister reported abuse in 1982.
In March 1988, the division sent the Tonys a letter saying it had completed an abuse investigation and was unable to substantiate allegations left unspecified in the document. The letter doesn't say whether one or both of the Tonys was accused.
"Of the two children involved, one completely denies she was subject to any abuse," John Gaisford, DFYS Western region manager, wrote in the March 23, 1988, memo. "The other child's statements have not changed, however due to her medical condition and current psychiatric treatment her statements' accuracy is questionable."
The matter had a "happy ending," he wrote, with the Tonys remaining as foster parents.
In 1992, DFYS investigated a report that Tony was drunk while caring for a foster child at a National Guard family outing in Kwethluk. The agency found it invalid. It took three weeks to close the matter and acting staff manager Mary Atchak wrote that she hoped the couple could forgive them for taking so long.
In 1995, three cases emerged. The names of the children are marked out by the word "confidential" so it's impossible to know from the records whether the same child made multiple complaints.
In March 1995, intake supervisor Georgina Kacyon wrote to Marilyn Tony that a case was being closed as "unconfirmed" -- which meant the agency couldn't find clear evidence of abuse but wasn't sure the report was wrong, either.
In June 1995, a worker wrote to Atchak about a May report of sexual abuse against Tony. The worker, Yvonne Kinegak, needed to know the findings within two weeks in order to relicense the home, she said. The records do not say what those findings were.
In October 1995, a girl accused Tony of inappropriately touching her. Atchak wrote to the Tonys in February 1997 that the claim was "invalid" because the child was too tall for him to have touched her the way she said and he also couldn't have had his hands behind his back like she said.
The final report of sexual abuse in the foster care file was made around May 5, 1998.
That girl, who was 12, according to the criminal case, first had made her home with relatives after her mother died and her father was in prison. "She craves attention to the point of being bothersome but is easily calmed with a little attention," a case assessment by social worker Teresa Strang said. The child eventually told Strang about the sexual abuse.
Her report indicates the 1998 case was referred to Bethel police, as required under law. But the girl didn't open up to police, the social worker wrote.
IRATE FOSTER MOM
By 1992, after more than 90 foster children had shared their home, Marilyn wrote a request to take in a girl who had been in 33 "placements." The couple specialized in high-needs children. Some ended up in mental hospitals. Some suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.
In early 1994, Marilyn Tony was so frustrated over a late check from the state that she refused to allow the foster children to return home after school and demanded that her foster care license be torn up, the records show. Social worker Teresa Perry wrote that Marilyn was irate and belligerent.
One little boy had been with her since he was 3 months old and saw her as "Mom," a Jan. 22, 1994, memo in the file said. "It's always the check!" three older children said on their way to a new foster home.
Somehow -- the file doesn't say -- the Tonys stayed on as foster parents four more years, then turned to home child care.
Marilyn Tony, her health fading, gave up her home day care last year and died in June, her daughter has said.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER