from www.freep.com – He was labeled a child predator of the worst kind.
Steven Demink convinced women to do the unthinkable: molest their children and videotape the sex acts for him to watch — sometimes live via webcam.
Demink, 41, is in prison for life for his crimes. So are the mothers, seven at last count.
But now, the courts are grappling with, perhaps, a more complicated and emotional issue: Who is left to raise the children and who will pay for their care?
In a case unfolding in federal court in Detroit, prosecutors are seeking restitution from Demink, arguing he should pay to help raise the children whose lives he helped shatter.
They lost their innocence and their mothers.
But the caregivers aren’t hopeful they’ll see any financial assistance. After all, Demink is in prison for life with little or no assets. But, as prosecutors note, there’s no telling when or if he could come into money.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen to order Demink to pay one caregiver $66,000 to help cover therapy bills and basic needs for two children, and more than $100,000 to another caregiver for therapy, housing, food, education and transportation for two children, including one who “feels tremendous guilt for his mother’s incarceration,” records show.
Rosen has not yet ruled on the restitution request. And other caregivers haven’t yet submitted bills to the court.
For Trinity, an Indiana woman who has been raising her sister’s two children for the last 17 months, any relief would help. The Free Press is not using her last name to protect the identity of the children.
Trinity, 32, went from a college student and bartender to a soccer mom overnight when her sister’s two children landed on her doorstep in 2010. Their mother, she learned, had been molesting them at the behest of Demink, a Michigan man she met on the Internet. Authorities removed the children from their mother’s home.
Trinity was blindsided. But turning the children over to foster care wasn’t an option.
“There was never a choice. If I let those kids go to strangers, I would never forgive myself,” Trinity said. “Someone in my family has to show them some normalcy.”
At an Idaho bus stop, a 5-year-old boy made a disclosure to his grandmother on Dec. 17, 2009.
He told her, per court records, that his mother had forced him to undress and then performed oral sex on him.
That spurred a federal investigation that led authorities to a basement in Redford Township, where a mysterious man known as Dalton St. Clair ran a child-pornography scheme for two years by convincing single mothers to send him nude and graphic images of their children.
Dalton St. Clair was really Demink, who claimed to be a single father looking for a serious relationship, records show. He attached photos he stole from a male modeling website and claimed he made up to $200,000 in the biopharmaceutical field, records show.
In reality, Demink was an overweight car salesman.
But the women fell for his story and hurt their children to win him over.
“It’s a special kind of evil to do what he did. He convinced a parent to do the unthinkable to their child,” said Brian Moskowitz, head of an investigative unit with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which investigated and arrested Demink.
At final count, records show, seven mothers sexually assaulted 12 children at Demink’s behest. The mothers are serving prison sentences ranging from seven to 30 years. The victims were in Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois and Florida.
Trinity bitterly recalls the day she got the heartbreaking phone call.
It was 4 p.m. Oct. 4, 2010. She was getting ready for her 5 p.m. bartending shift at a small family-owned bar when her sister called.
“She was a crying mess,” Trinity said.
Her sister asked her to take care of her children for a few days. About 30 minutes later, the Department of Child Services showed up at Trinity’s home with her sister’s two children, then 10 and 14. The social workers filled her in on all the ugly details: Her sister had been molesting the kids to win over a man.
Trinity went numb.
“I never, in a million years, would have thought that she would get involved with something like this,” said Trinity, who described her sister as needy and helpless.
Trinity took the children in. She cashed out her $31,000 in retirement savings. She quit her bartending job and changed her college courses so she could be at home more.
She now works in human resources for a pharmaceutical company and is trying to finish her master’s degree.
Her niece and nephew — whose father is out of the picture — became the focal point of her life. Trinity attends soccer and basketball games, wrestling matches and track meets. She pays for tutoring and therapy sessions for the children. And she’s a stickler about home-cooked meals.
“They’re doing exceptionally well,” she said, noting that her 12-year-old nephew got all A’s and B’s on his last report card, and her 16-year-old niece made the honor roll.
Trinity tries to hold back her anger at her sister, who is now serving a three- to 30-year prison sentence for child molestation.
“I’m pretty angry at him,” Trinity said of Demink. “But I’m most angry at her. … She willingly chose to victimize her innocent children and to put herself before everything, before them.”
Helping victims heal
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, who prosecuted Demink, is on a mission to help the victims heal.
One way to do that, he said, is to get restitution from Demink, whose attorney could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors often seek restitution from defendants in a variety of cases, including embezzlement, bank robbery and public corruption. In child pornography cases, prosecutors said, the goal with restitution is to help the victims as they get on with their lives. In Demink’s case, some of the caretakers can’t afford the therapy the children need.
“They can never be made whole after what’s been done to them,” Mulcahy said. “But our hope in restitution is to provide them the resources to put them in the best position possible to heal.”
Prosecutors and lawyers nationwide have successfully sought restitution orders in child pornography cases under a provision in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which allows for such restitution. The law, however, has taken years to catch on.
“For about 20 years, it sat there basically unused, mostly because victims of child pornography only recently became aware that they were victims,” said New York attorney James Marsh, founder of the Children’s Law Center in Washington.
Marsh said restitution in child pornography cases has been a growing trend in recent years, although he didn’t have numbers. His law firm, for example, has collected more than $2 million in restitution from 100-plus defendants in child pornography cases.
While the average award in child pornography cases is a few thousand dollars, some courts have awarded significantly more. Last month in California, a youth counselor was ordered to pay $234,000 in restitution to a child pornography victim. Two courts in Florida have ordered restitution of more than $3 million to child pornography victims.
In Michigan, the awards have been smaller. For example, a federal judge in Detroit last year ordered two men — John Belloli, 52, and Robert Mueller, 49 — to pay $10,000 each in restitution in a child pornography case involving a 7-year-old girl who had been drugged and photographed in Sterling Heights in 2009.