The Ohio man who allegedly claimed to be Timmothy Pitzen, a boy who disappeared in 2011, pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges of making false statements to federal agents.
Brian Michael Rini, 23, of Medina appeared in federal court, where he entered his pleas. He faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.
Rini’s alleged hoax began earlier this month when residents spotted him in a Newport, Kentucky, neighborhood, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Police responded to a report of a male acting suspiciously, authorities have said.
Rini, 23, identified himself to law enforcement officers as Timmothy, who would now be 14. Rini claimed he’d just escaped from captors and was a victim of sex trafficking.
Rini was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center after complaining of stomach pain. While there, he declined to provide fingerprints to investigators but agreed to be swabbed for a DNA test, according to the US attorney.
“I think there were suspicions relatively quickly, if for no other reason than he declined to be fingerprinted,” Glassman said.
DNA test results later indicated he was Rini, not Timmothy, and he was interviewed by agents again.
Rini initially stuck to his story that he was Timmothy but admitted he wasn’t the missing boy when confronted with the DNA evidence, Ben Glassman, US attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said two weeks ago.
Rini told investigators he learned of the boy’s 2011 disappearance from an episode of ABC’s “20/20,” Glassman said, noting a rerun of an episode aired this year.
Rini has claimed to be a victim of child sex trafficking in the past, Glassman said. He made two previous reports to law enforcement in northern Ohio, according to the US attorney, who declined to provide more details.
Recently released from prison
Rini was released from an Ohio prison last month after serving time for burglary and vandalism, court records show.
Records from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction indicate he was charged with burglary and vandalism – both felonies. The crimes occurred in Medina County in January 2018, and he was sentenced to one year and six months in prison.
He was released March 7 and was supposed to start parole supervision that day for three years.
Rini has a history of getting into trouble and using other people’s identities, his brother said.
His brother said Rini was in jail a lot as a child, “just getting into random little bouts of trouble, fights at home.”
Jonathon Rini said his brother was “placed on juvenile probation and then he just continuously violated his probation.”
Missing since 2011
Brian Rini’s alleged deception dashed relatives’ hopes for an end to their long search for Timmothy.
“It’s like reliving that day all over again,” said Kara Jacobs, Timmothy’s aunt. “Timmothy’s father is devastated once again.”
Almost eight years ago, Timmothy and his mother went on a road trip that included stops at a zoo and a water park. Their adventure started after Amy Fry-Pitzen checked her 6-year-old son out of an Illinois elementary school on May 11, 2011.
Three days later, the mother’s body was found in a hotel room in Rockford, Illinois. She had died by suicide, leaving behind a note that said her son was with people who love him.
“You’ll never find him,” the note said.
An anxious person identified himself as Timmothy
Sharon Hall told CNN she noticed a “fidgety” boy in her Newport neighborhood on Wednesday, not far from the Ohio-Kentucky border. A neighbor’s daughter called police after the boy told them he had run for two hours and that his stomach hurt.
When authorities arrived, he told them his name was Timmothy Pitzen and said he fled from two men who kept him captive for seven years, most recently at a nearby Red Roof Inn, according to a police report.
“He walked up to my car and he went, ‘Can you help me?’ ” a 911 caller told dispatchers, according to CNN affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati. “‘I just want to get home. Please help me.’ I asked him what’s going on, and he tells me he’s been kidnapped and he’s been traded through all these people and he just wanted to go home.”
Police checked Red Roof Inns in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky areas but did not find any clues.
He said he just wanted to get home
Jonathon Rini said his brother was arrested a few years ago after breaking into a model home and throwing a party.
He said his brother had used his name when stopped for a traffic violation in 2017. Jonathon Rini said he later received a letter notifying him his license had been suspended, according to a police report from Norton, Ohio.
Speaking by phone Friday with CNN’s “New Day,” Jonathon Rini said his brother had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. “Still, he should have the rational thinking to not do something like this,” he said.
He said he hasn’t spoken to his brother in three or four years and was shocked when he heard what happened. “I do not know why he would do anything like this.”
He said he’s not sure why his brother would single out Timmothy’s case and pretend to be the missing boy. “He’s a terrible person,’ Jonathon Rini said.
The family searched desperately for years
For years, Timmothy’s family has searched for him in several states.
“I have one image. It’s the day I dropped him off at school and he’s off – running off to class – and that’s pretty much the last image I have in my mind of him,” Timmothy’s father, Jim Pitzen, told CNN in 2015.
The day before his mother killed herself, she made several calls from an unknown location to family members, including her mother.
She assured themTimmothy was safe.
Over the years, family members have said Timmothy’s mother had a history of depression, and her marriage was failing. Her biggest fear was that a judge would take her son away because of her mental health issues, according to relatives.
Update: This story has been updated to clarify details of two interviews with Jonathon Rini, the brother of Brian Michael Rini.
CNN’s Deanna, Hackney, Yon Pomrenze, Janet DiGiacomo and Holly Yan contributed to this report.