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Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony pleads guilty to sexual abuse

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 24, 2014

Almost nine months after being charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse that rocked the small Southwest community of Bethel, Peter Tony has pleaded guilty.

Tony, 70, appeared in Bethel Court Monday to change his plea. Under the terms of a plea deal, the 10 original counts were consolidated down to three of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree. Under the deal, Tony pleaded guilty to two counts for incidents that occurred between 2011 and 2012 and one for abuse that occurred in 1998. Under state statutes, Tony could serve between five and 99 years for the 2011 counts and between one and 10 years for the assaults in 1998.

While no other charges are pending, Tony also pleaded guilty to two aggravators, admitting to engaging in similar conduct with the same or similar victims. Because of those aggravators, the judge can choose to sentence him above the presumptive or "normal" sentencing, which is usually less than the maximum.

In the hour-long hearing, Tony spoke softly and said little, calmly answering Judge Douglas Blankenship's questions and at times conferring with his attorney, Mark Osterman, over conditions of his plea.

Tony was arrested in Bethel June 13 after a six-month investigation by local police. He was indicted on 10 counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the first and second degree last summer, stemming from two separate charges. This first was the abuse of a 4-year-old child left in the unlicensed day care, which Tony and his wife, Marilyn, operated out of their Bethel home between September 2011 and August 2012. Charges again were filed against him over incidents between January and May of 1998 in which Tony abused a 12-year-old foster child left in the Tonys' care.

The Tonys were well-known in the rural hub community of about 6,000 for their willingness to take in some of the neediest foster children. They first applied for a foster care license in 1984 and abruptly lost it in May 1998. An Alaska Dispatch public records request found that the Alaska Department of Family and Youth Services, now known as the Office of Children's Services, found the license was revoked after an investigation "substantiated" the claims of the 12-year-old girl, though no charges were filed until 15 years later. It's unclear how many children the Tonys cared for during that time.

Peter Tony's stepdaughter, Kimberley Hahn Bruesch, also documented abuses Tony inflicted upon her and her two sisters, both of whom committed suicide years after the assaults occurred. Bruesch said she first reported the assaults to foster care officials in the early 1980s, but they were never acted on.

Bruesch's claims fall outside Alaska's statute of limitations for sexual abuse charges.

Reached Monday, Bruesch said she was happy for the family of the little girl who originally came forward, but noted she didn't have strong feelings on the matter for herself, since she always knew he was guilty.

"For me, it's immaterial whether or not he's convicted or how long he serves," she said. "I'm just glad he was exposed, and I hope any of his other victims find some validation and some healing."

Tony's sentencing is scheduled for June 24 in Bethel.