CINCINNATI — An Ohio man who falsely claimed to be Timmothy Pitzen, a 6-year-old Illinois boy who vanished with his mother in 2011, has been sentenced to serve two years in federal prison.
Brian Michael Rini, 25, of Medina, pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft in January, according to federal authorities. Rini was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in the Southern District of Ohio.
Rini’s sentencing was done via video. As part of his plea agreement, charges of lying to FBI agents were dismissed.
He faced up to eight years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Healey accused Rini of causing “unnecessary pain” by raising the hopes of Timmothy’s family, according to CBS News.
“He needs to understand that when he tells lies like this, it does cause damage,” Healey told Barrett. “It hurts people, it hurts their families, and it takes law enforcement away from their very serious job of helping children who have been sex trafficked.”
Rini showed up, wandering and confused, on a street in Newport, Kentucky, on April 3, 2019. When officers responded to a call of concern by passersby, Rini told them his name was Timmothy Pitzen and he “just wanted to go home,” federal officials said.
“Posing as the missing child, Rini claimed he was 14 and had recently escaped from a hotel room in which two men had been holding him captive,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “He said he had been sexually and physically abused for years while in captivity and that he was having abdominal pain.”
At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Rini refused to be fingerprinted but allowed federal agents to take a buccal swab for DNA testing. The test proved his true identity.
“Once law enforcement officers confronted Rini about his true identity, Rini immediately stated he was not the missing child,” authorities said. “He said he watched a story about the child on 20/20 and stated he wanted to get away from his own family.”
Timmothy’s family was once again devastated, the boy’s aunt, Kara Jacobs, told CBS News.
“It’s like reliving that day all over again,” Jacobs said.
Rini apologized to the boy’s loved ones.
“I wish that I could just take it back,” he said during the hearing. “I am sorry to the family.”
‘You will never find him’
Timmothy lived in Aurora with his parents, James Pitzen and Amy Fry-Pitzen. According to her family, Amy Pitzen suffered sporadically from depression, for which she took prescription medication.
The couple had also had some rocky times in their marriage, with Amy Pitzen talking of divorce, but no one saw her actions coming.
On the morning of May 11, 2011, Jim Pitzen dropped their son off for kindergarten at Greenman Elementary School. The 6-year-old said goodbye and ran to his teacher, his Spider-Man backpack swinging, in “this little waddle run, like a chubby old man,” Pitzen told People magazine in 2015.
“I told him I loved him and to be good. And then he was gone,” Pitzen said.
About 30 minutes later, Amy Pitzen returned to the school and checked Tim out, claiming a family emergency. According to the Charley Project, it was the last time anyone at the school would see the boy.
“After checking him out of school, she drove to an auto repair shop and dropped off her blue 2004 Ford Expedition SUV at 10 a.m.,” the Charley Project’s page about the disappearance states. “One of the repair shop employees drove Amy and Timmothy to the Brookfield Zoo, and at 3 p.m., she came to pick up her repaired vehicle and drove with Timmothy to the Key Lime Cove Resort in Gurnee, Illinois, where they spent the night.”
Meanwhile, Jim Pitzen had gone to pick his son up from school and found out he was gone. After being unable to reach Amy Pitzen, he reported his wife and son missing.
The next day, Amy Pitzen and her son went to the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Security footage showed them checking out the morning of May 13.
That afternoon, Amy Pitzen called several family members and assured them that she and Tim were fine.
“Timmothy could be heard in the background and sounded normal, saying only that he was hungry. This was the last time anyone saw or heard from the child,” the Charley Project website states.
By 7:25 p.m. that day, Amy Pitzen was in Winnebago, Illinois, where she was spotted — alone — in a Family Dollar, buying stationery. She went to a nearby grocery store, and between 11:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., she checked into the Rockford Inn in Rockford, Illinois.
“Sometime that night or the next morning, she took her own life by slashing her wrists and neck; she had also taken an overdose of antihistamines,” according to the Charley Project page. “She was 43 years old.”
The Pitzen family was stunned, not just by her suicide but by the notes she left behind. A suicide note was found at the scene, and Amy Pitzen’s mother, Alana Anderson, received a letter in the mail, as did one of Pitzen’s friends.
Watch Jim Pitzen talk about the mystery surrounding his wife and son below.
In her final correspondences, Amy Pitzen wrote that Timmothy was safe and with people who loved him and would care for him.
“You will never find him,” she wrote.
Amy Pitzen’s cellphone was missing, as were Timmothy’s Spider-Man backpack, his toys and clothes, the clothes his mother was wearing when she checked out of the Kalahari Resort, a tube of Crest toothpaste and an iPass transponder, the Charley Project reported. Her cellphone turned up on the side of Route 78 in 2013, but neither Tim nor the other missing items have been found.
Authorities initially believed Amy Pitzen had left Tim with unknown people because his car safety seat was missing, but the seat was later found at his grandmother’s house.
When Amy Pitzen’s Ford Expedition was analyzed by police, they found traces of the boy’s blood. It was not clear how old the stains were, however, and family members said Timmothy had a nosebleed in the vehicle several months before he vanished.
“Amy’s SUV was ‘visibly dirty’ and had soil, tall grass and weeds stuck to the undercarriage when it was located after her death,” the Charley Project website states. “Forensic testing on the plant and sediment materials on the car indicated it stopped for a time on a gravel area just off an asphalt road that had at one time been treated with glass road-making beads.”
“The vehicle backed into a grassy meadow or field which contained Queen Anne’s lace and black mustard plants and would have been nearly treeless. Some oak or birch trees were in the general area but not in the direct place where the car stopped. There was possibly a pond or small stream close by. There were no indications that the land was cultivated as either a lawn or for growing crops.”
Authorities have been unable to pinpoint exactly where the vehicle had been.
Watch a report on the case from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children below.
They do believe that Amy Pitzen planned her son’s disappearance for months.
“In February and March 2011, she took two unexplained trips to the area he would later disappear from,” according to the Charley Project. “She had an email account opened under her maiden name in 2007 and kept it a secret from her husband, but the account didn’t contain anything useful to the investigation.”
Jim Pitzen and his mother-in-law both told police they did not believe Amy Pitzen could have harmed her son.
“She loved that little guy so much,” Jim Pitzen told People. “I can’t see her killing him. I just can’t.”
Pitzen, who has since moved back to his hometown of Clinton, Iowa, told the news magazine that he believed his wife’s claim that she left their son safe with someone.
“I always wonder what she told Timmothy,” Pitzen said. “Why hasn’t he tried to call? We taught him how to dial 911. ‘This is your number, this is your mom’s number, you know where you live, your address,’ all the stuff you do. We got one of those little IDenticards for kids, with his fingerprint and his name and a picture of him, so if he got lost somewhere you could find him.”
The card was found in the hotel room where Amy Pitzen died, the magazine reported.
Both Jim Pitzen and Anderson, Timmothy’s grandmother, talked about forgiveness. The grieving husband and father said it’d taken a lot of therapy to forgive his wife for what she did.
Anderson has also struggled.
“You don’t leave your children,” Anderson told People. “You don’t give your children away. I had some trouble forgiving her for what she did to herself. I don’t think I can ever forgive her for what she did to her child.”
Jacobs, the boy’s aunt, said in a 2018 video for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, that she has not lost hope for Timmothy’s return someday.
“We just believe with every fiber of our being that he is alive,” Jacobs said. “Without any kind of logic to give you. I just know that he is alive.”
A brief spark of hope
That simmering hope sparked brightly when a young man claiming to be Timmothy showed up on that Kentucky street in April 2019.
Federal court documents show that the information provided by Rini led the Newport Police Department to call in FBI agents from Cincinnati and Louisville, as well as Department of Homeland Security officers, to initiate a child sex trafficking investigation.
FBI agent Mary Braun, part of the bureau’s Violent Crimes Against Children/Child Exploitation Task Force, met with him in the emergency room. Braun’s suspicions were raised almost immediately when the supposed 14-year-old would not allow his fingerprints to be taken.
His cheek swab was sent to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office, where it was processed for DNA. The day after Rini showed up in Newport, authorities knew he could not be related to Jim and Amy Pitzen.
Read the criminal complaint against Brian Rini below.
Rini’s fingerprints and DNA were already on file due to his criminal history as a convicted felon. Records showed that he had been released from an Ohio prison on March 7, less than a month before he claimed to be Timmothy.
Rini served time for burglary and vandalism.
“He said he watched a story about Timmothy on ABC’s 20/20,” a criminal complaint states. “When questioned further, Rini stated that he wished he had a father like Timmothy’s because if he went missing, his father would just keep drinking.”
FBI agents soon learned that Rini’s claim to be a juvenile sex trafficking victim was not a new one. He had done it twice before.
“In those instances, he was identified as Rini once he was fingerprinted,” Braun wrote.
He also had a history of making up stories while in prison, The Associated Press reported.
According to the AP, Rini’s “lengthy criminal history” beginning at age 13, his lack of a permanent address and his history of mental health issues all factored into his case. Rini, who went through mental health treatment in 2017, underwent a mental evaluation while jailed in a federal facility in Chicago.
The doctor who conducted the evaluation found that Rini has symptoms of depressive disorder that, at the time of the exam, were in remission. Barrett ruled Oct. 31 that he was competent to stand trial, court records show.
Timmothy’s family was devastated to learn last year that Rini’s identity was a hoax. They expressed sympathy for the troubled young man, however.
“I feel so sorry for the young man, who’s obviously had a horrible time and felt the need to say he was somebody else,” Anderson said, according to CBS News.
The boy’s paternal grandmother had similar sentiments.
“I just hope this young man that claimed to be Tim realizes how much hurt he caused,” Linda Pitzen told the Wooster Daily Record last year. “And now everybody is hurting. And I just don’t understand how somebody could be so sick to do this.”
Linda Pitzen still had hope, telling the newspaper that she hoped the hoax would generate new leads on her grandson’s whereabouts.
“This was the first time we’ve had national coverage of this. And there are people telling us that, ‘We’ve never heard about this before,’” she said. “Maybe somebody’s seen something and will call the police.”
If alive, Timmothy Pitzen is now 16 years old.
Cox Media Group