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Neglect suspect was some parents' last hope

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  • Neglect suspect was some parents' last hope

    Neglect suspect was some parents' last hope
    Bloomington woman assumed guardianship of troubled kids when families couldn't

    By Terry Horne, Vic Ryckaert and Eunice Trotter
    [email protected]
    February 15, 2004

    BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Diana Lynn Groves presented herself as a wealthy Christian
    who cared about unwanted kids, according to people who dealt with her.

    Children born as far away as Russia and Ethiopia, and brought to the United
    States by Americans desperate for children, wound up in her custody without any
    government oversight.

    Diana Lynn Groves
    Referred to Groves by word of mouth, three families said they placed their
    children with her because they could not cope with the children's severe
    emotional and psychological problems. They believed they had nowhere else to

    "We were looking at a lifetime of not sleeping," said Fazale Rana, who, with
    his wife, adopted two children from Mexico and placed them with Groves in 2002.

    Investigators say Groves' home on the outskirts of this college town was no

    To control or discipline the children, the 53-year-old woman would tape their
    hands to a wall and paddle them with a tennis racket, the children told
    investigators. Groves even placed one girl into a clothes dryer and turned it
    on, the children said.

    The children's account was supported by a nanny who arrived at Groves' home one
    afternoon and found a 7-year-old boy lying in a tub, his arms taped against his
    sides and his feet bound, according to court documents.

    Groves was charged last week with three counts of felony child neglect and
    being a habitual criminal, stemming from prior convictions for theft and fraud.

    Released on $55,000 bond, Groves could not be reached for comment.

    Investigators still are trying to determine how Groves got the children and how
    she supported them and herself.

    Because the placements with Groves were private, there was no oversight by
    child welfare agencies and the courts that are supposed to protect children.

    In a sign of how little scrutiny was paid to Groves, a court approved a
    petition to transfer custody of a 10-year-old girl described as Romanian in one
    court document and Russian in another.

    When a reporter for The Indianapolis Star visited Groves' Bloomington home
    Friday, a person seen inside wouldn't answer the door. Groves' attorney, Jawn
    Bauer, declined to comment.

    At least a year before Groves was arrested, investigators with the Monroe
    County Office of Family and Children began to take a closer look at her home,
    according to court records.

    Child welfare workers removed 13 children from her home in November. Officials
    say she may have had up to 16 there at one time.

    The FBI now is assisting Monroe County with the investigation, said Dan
    Nielsen, an agent with the FBI's Indianapolis office.

    Investigators are trying to account for all of the other children who may have
    been under Groves' care in the past.

    Monroe County Sheriff's Department Detective Brad Swain said none of the
    children apparently was placed in her care directly by the state.

    Many of Groves' guardianship petitions were filed and approved in Marion

    Parents interviewed by The Star said they paid Indianapolis attorney Diane W.
    Goudy $500 to handle the guardianship and $1,500 more for the adoption work.
    The guardianship gave Groves the right to act as the children's custodial

    Goudy said she couldn't talk about the cases: "I'm under an ethical obligation
    of confidentiality. I haven't been given any authorization by my client to
    speak about that."

    Because the adoptive parents gave Groves control of their children, state
    workers weren't involved in the placements.

    Parents interviewed by The Star said Goudy told them Groves was independently
    wealthy and could afford to take care of the children at no charge to them.

    Groves lives in a modest, split-level, four-bedroom house in a middle-class

    Investigators want to know more about Groves and how the parents were put in
    touch with the network that brought the children to her doorstep.

    "How did she get these kids? What was the process?" Swain asks. "Where I'm at
    right now is getting those questions answered."

    Children acted out

    It was their adopted children's severe psychological and emotional problems
    that led Fazale and Amy Rana, of Upland, Calif., to Groves.

    The couple wanted to give the children a good home in America, Fazale Rana
    said. The 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy from Mexico had been abused

    But after a while in the Rana home, they began to act out.

    They set a fire in the house and killed a pet, and the boy even threatened to
    kill the couple, Fazale Rana said. He said they feared for their other
    children's safety.

    The couple joined an informal support group for adoptive parents of troubled

    "That's where we heard of Diana Groves," Rana said.

    The couple didn't know she'd been convicted of felony theft in 1989, fraud in
    1991 and a felony charge of failure to appear in court in 1992. Details on
    those convictions weren't immediately available.

    "We took her at face value. Part of it is, when you're going through that,
    you're not thinking clearly," Rana said.

    Rana said his wife found Groves' home to be "quite nice" and left the children

    A few months later, the Ranas got a call from Groves.

    "She said she wanted to put them in another home in southeastern Indiana. We
    were kind of taken by surprise. Some things weren't adding up. That's when we
    became concerned about her motivation," Rana said.

    The Ranas took their children back in January 2003 and, through an agency,
    placed them in another state.

    A ray of hope

    For Kimberly Pistek, a single mother in Lima, Ohio, Groves offered a ray of
    hope -- and the promise of a respite from dealing with her biological
    daughter's mental illness.

    Her 10-year-old has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression, Pistek
    said, and her outbursts would disturb neighbors. Pistek said she even had
    called police for help a couple of times.

    At her wits' end, she sought help through an adoption agency listed in the
    Yellow Pages. The woman answering the phone referred her to Groves.

    "She told me about this lady that she knew that would call once a month, and
    she would ask for children whom nobody else wanted."

    Ten minutes later, Groves called and told Pistek she had adopted children, many
    with mental or physical handicaps, for about 20 years.

    "She felt like nobody else wanted those kids, and she wanted to make them feel
    loved or wanted," Pistek said.

    Pistek, who said she intended to let Groves care for her daughter only
    temporarily, took the child to Groves' home Nov. 6.

    "In her living room, she had at least 40 pictures of different children she had
    had throughout the years," Pistek said. "She told me I could not speak with (my
    daughter) for a least two weeks, to allow her to get adjusted."

    Her daughter was there less than a week when Groves called and said she was
    moving the girl to another home.

    According to Pistek, Groves said the girl had lied to her teacher at school,
    saying Groves had struck her and denied her dinner the night before.

    Groves took the child to Shirley Harmon, of North Vernon, who is licensed as a
    foster parent by a private agency. Harmon also cares for troubled children,
    including another child who had come from Groves' home.

    After Pistek read a Star story about Groves' arrest, she drove to North Vernon
    and took her daughter from Harmon.

    "It's hard for me, letting go, but I wanted what was best for them," Harmon
    said. "They've both been victims, and they need to bond together."

    Pistek said her daughter told her Groves struck her and said unkind things.

    But that's not how Groves saw herself, Pistek said. "In her mind, she thought
    she was the greatest mom in the world, taking in all these kids."

    Kids wouldn't talk

    Krysta Walsh, 21, an Indiana University education major, was one of several
    nannies Groves hired. She worked for her two months last year and quit because
    her paychecks bounced.

    While Walsh never saw Groves abuse the children, they wouldn't talk about what
    happened at home.

    "We'd ask, 'So what did you do last night?' " But the children wouldn't reply,
    and when asked why, they would say, "Oh, because our mom says we're not
    allowed," Walsh said.

    Walsh said that some days, Groves would drive her with several children to a
    local park and leave them there for most of the day, without any lunch and, on
    at least one occasion, without protection from the rain.

    "I know that me and another nanny both called child protective services. But
    the only thing we could tell child protective services was that she had 13 kids
    living in a four-bedroom house, and that they had to trade beds and sleep on
    the floor."

    No home inspections

    In guardianship cases, unlike adoptions, the state does not require home
    inspections, said family law authorities.

    That "shortcoming" in the law should be changed, said Steven Kirsh, an
    Indianapolis attorney and past president of the American Academy of Adoption

    "It seems reasonable that in a guardianship, like an adoption, you'd want to
    have some type of an investigation of the guardian's home," Kirsh said.

    A Greenwood agency did make a visit to Groves' home in 2002 at the request of
    at least one parent and gave her a positive review.

    But an Indianapolis agency last fall did a follow-up home study and found
    things didn't jibe, said Julie Craft of the Adoption Support Center, whose
    agency did the study and provides home studies for state and private agencies.

    Craft, who has been interviewed by federal investigators in the case, said she
    could not be specific because of the confidentiality of her report.

    "Let's just say what was presented in the initial study was not the real
    story," she said.

    Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University School of Law family law professor, said
    the case points to another problem.

    "Courts assume that parents will do what's best for their children, and the
    vast majority do," Drobac said.

    "A parent who is facing challenges and may be desperate for relief may not have
    the same interest in that particular situation as (with) his or her (own)

    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"
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