HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota mother was found guilty Thursday of concealing her two daughters from their father for more than two years.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, 50, of Elko, was convicted by a Dakota County jury on six counts of deprivation of custodial or parental rights. She was acquitted on two counts of causing minors to be runaways.
The teens were found in November at a horse ranch in western Minnesota, after they hadn’t been seen in public since April 2013. Prosecutors say Grazzini-Rucki drove the then-13- and 14-year-old girls almost 200 miles from Lakeville, where they were living, to the ranch near Herman to hide them during a bitter divorce.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said it is unacceptable for any parent to hide their children from a custodial parent.
“The almost two-and-a-half years that these children were hidden led to significant trauma to her daughters and caused significant adverse impacts to the rest of her family,” Backstrom said in a statement.
Backstrom told The Associated Press: “It is simply not OK to take the law into your own hands and violate court orders, even when you don’t agree with those orders and even when they involve your own children.”
Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney, Stephen Grigsby, said the verdict “far exceeds disappointment.” He said a decision to appeal isn’t up to him, but he believes there would be grounds for one. He said the judge had no legal basis when she allowed evidence at trial that was designed to discredit his client.
Grigsby said Grazzini-Rucki testified during the trial that the girls ran away because they were terrified of their father, and they threatened to run away again with or without her help. Grigsby said Grazzini-Rucki testified she placed them in the care of someone she trusted in order to protect them.
Grazzini-Rucki was free during trial but was taken into custody after the verdict and bail was set at $100,000, or $50,000 with conditions. She’s scheduled to be sentenced in September. She faces a year in jail under sentencing guidelines, but would get credit for time served.
The owners of the White Horse Ranch, Doug and Gina Dahlen, are facing felony charges in the case. They’ve said they took the girls to restaurants, garage sales, church and shopping trips and didn’t try to hide them. The Dahlens say the teens had access to computers and cellphones and could have gone home.
Before the girls disappeared in April 2013, they repeatedly accused their father of abuse. But a court-appointed psychologist concluded Grazzini-Rucki had brainwashed them and a judge granted full custody to the girls’ father, David Rucki, after finding there was no credible evidence of abuse.
The sisters have been participating in a reunification program and have moved in with their father.