(CNN) — A man who claimed to be Timmothy Pitzen, an Illinois boy who disappeared in 2011 at age 6, pleaded guilty in federal court to aggravated identity theft, according to a US attorney’s office.
Brian Michael Rini, 24, of Medina, Ohio, faces a mandatory two-year prison sentence and up to a year on probation on Wednesday, according to a press release from the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of Ohio.
Public defenders representing Rini did not respond to requests for comment Thursday by phone or email.
The case began in April 2019 when police responded to reports of a male acting suspiciously in a neighborhood in Newport, Kentucky, US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Ben Glassman told CNN at the time.
When police arrived at the scene, Rini, then 23 years old, told officers that he was Timmothy, and that he had escaped captors as a victim of sex trafficking, Glassman said. Timmothy would have been 14 at the time.
But DNA test swabs taken at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center showed that Rini was not the boy who had gone missing eight years earlier. When confronted with the DNA results, Rini told investigators he learned of Timmothy’s disappearance on an episode of ABC’s “20/20” and stated he wanted to get away from his own family, according to the US attorney’s office.
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.
Reopening painful wounds
The incident reopened painful wounds for Timmothy’s family as they faced the prospect of their long-missing relative finally returning alive after eight years only to have their hopes stripped away.
“It’s like reliving that day all over again,” Timmothy’s aunt Kara Jacobs told reporters in April of 2019. “Timmothy’s father is devastated once again.”
The guilty plea marks the latest twist in the much-publicized case of the missing boy. In May 2011, Timmothy’s mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, checked her 6-year-old son out of elementary school and took him to a zoo and a Wisconsin water park. His mother’s body was found three days later in a hotel room in Rockford, Illinois, more than 70 miles from their home in Aurora, Illinois.
She died by suicide, leaving behind a note that said Timmothy was with people who loved him. “You’ll never find him,” the note said.
Despite the note, Jacobs, the sister of Amy Fry-Pitzen, remains confident that her nephew will return alive.
“We know that Timmothy will absolutely be found one day and we look forward to the day that he is able to share his own story and hopefully help other people in the process,” she told CNN on Thursday.
The family was not expecting Rini to plead guilty, Jacobs said, and that all of them, including Timmothy’s father and grandmother, were glad that Rini was taking responsibility for his actions.
“I’m happy that he changed his pleas from not guilty to guilty to save the court system and police precious time to pursue other things,” she said. “We were pleased that he has gone down that path of accepting what he did, and we hope that he gets the help that he desperately needs.”
Rini previously pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated identity theft, a plea which was withdrawn and replaced with a guilty plea, according to court documents. Two previous counts of falsifying statements to federal agents, to which Rini had pleaded not guilty, were dismissed, Thornton said.
Rini’s sentencing date has not been set, the US attorney’s office said.