Police in Bethel have arrested a 69-year-old man on charges of sexually abusing a 4-year-old child, according to a statement released late Monday afternoon. An investigation into the abuse uncovered "numerous" other alleged victims living in Alaska and elsewhere, dating back decades, according to the release.
Peter Tony, identified in the release as a former foster parent and daycare operator, was arrested June 13 for two counts of sexual abuse of a minor involving the 4-year-old, a Bethel resident who is believed to have been abused for almost a year. Tony was arraigned on the two original charges in Bethel District Court on June 14 and has since been indicted by a Bethel Grand Jury for seven counts of alleged sexual abuse of a minor, occurring between September 2011 and August 2012.
Calls to the city police chief and others were unreturned, Monday.
Alaska is a national leader in domestic violence and sex crimes, and sexual abuse of minors has long been regarded as a rampant problem, especially in rural Alaska. There is one registered sex offender for every 293 people in the 49th state, compared to one for every 450 nationwide. The numbers are likely much higher. According to the state, 65 sex offenders are currently registered among the roughly 6,000 residents of Bethel, which serves as a regional hub for numerous isolated villages scattered around the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Tony's arrest came after nearly six months of investigation by Officer Amy Davis, the press release said. Tony and his wife previously worked as foster parents in Bethel, but witnesses told Davis that the couple had been forced out of the program after allegations of abuse surfaced. After the couple's "rescission" from the program, Tony operated a day care facility out of his home.
Daycare workers and foster parents are listed among professionals required by state law to immediately report reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered harm as a result of abuse or neglect to the nearest office of the state's Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children's Services.
The position for the manager of children's protective services for the Southwest region, headquarters in Bethel, is listed as "vacant" on the state's website. The contact number listed there for the Southwest region is identical to the one for the Southeast region children's protective services manager, Sharon Fleming. Fleming could not be reached.
Tony was a "very active" volunteer with Bethel Search and Rescue, said Mike Riley, a long-time member of the all-volunteer group. Riley described Tony as a "kind, caring person.
"He was always concerned about other people, gave a lot of people help who were in need, and I do believe he led a life in good regard," Riley said.
Tony is being held in custody on $100,000 bail, and is scheduled to be arraigned in Bethel Superior Court on Tuesday.
The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information was encouraged to contact Officer Davis 907-543-3781.