Betrayal of Trust by Meredith Oakley

Betrayal of Trust

by Meredith Oakley

Kinda funny that state officials blacked out nearly all of their assessment of Brian J. Bergthold’s fitness to be a foster parent. He liked to tell folks that he had been called to foster parenting by God. For some reason, the Department of Human Services didn’t think the public should have access to this information. Fortunately, reporters got a hold of the written assessment before the fine points were redacted. Obviously, the Bergthold blarney was in fine fettle the day the DHS representative conducted his “foster home assessment.” “ Brian wants to be a foster parent because he feels led by God to do so, ” the evaluator had written. “He says he has been blessed and wants to share those blessings with others. He is open to either gender, but based on his experience, boys would be better. Easy going is how Brian describes himself. His goal is every day to grow closer to God.” That’s pretty much the same line he fed to a writer from Foster Pride, a quarterly newsletter associated with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Social Work, who did a feature story on him in its Summer 2006 issue.

“After moving to Northwest Arkansas from Oregon a few years ago,” the story noted, “Brian felt a strong desire to be useful and helpful to those in need. Last year, God’s prompting for Brian to be a foster parent became overwhelming, so he began inquiring about the possibility, albeit with some skepticism—namely, that single people are not suitable as foster parents (a false notion which was quickly dispelled ). One of his own siblings has adopted three foster children and Brian was not new to the experience as he had helped raise several kids in the past. As he began the process, God opened all the doors for him....” There are those who would question whether God had anything to do with it now that Bergthold—unlike his admirers at DHS and Foster Pride, I don’t think I feel kindly enough toward him to call him by his first name—has been sentenced on both state and federal charges related to his abuse of young boys entrusted to his care. The feds confiscated his house and property and gave him 70 years and a $ 75, 000 fine for producing and transporting child pornography—at least one incident occurred in Oregon—and the state of Arkansas gave him 40 years for sexual assault.

In both cases, he is readily admitted his guilt, saving his victims from appearing at trial, which at first blush might appear to be the only selfless thing he ever did for them except that the guilty pleas were made in anticipation of multiple felony counts being dismissed, which is what happened.

Bergthold, 46, moved to Northwest Arkansas from Forest Grove, Ore., sometime between 2000 and 2002. His home was approved as a state-financed foster-care residence in 2005, and until the spring of 2007 a total of 28 boys ages 9-17 were handed over to him, a DHS spokesman told our reporter Michelle Bradford after his arrest last spring.

He might have been stopped a bit earlier if DHS officials had taken seriously the complaint of one youth in December 2006, who was interviewed at Bergthold’s residence and then left there for eight more days, apparently because DHS investigators didn’t take the complaint seriously. And why should they ? Wasn’t Bergthold a prince among men ?

“A house full of guys, a big mellow dog and the call of the outdoors sounds like heaven to most boys,” the Foster Pride writer had enthused only months before, “but it’s not a fraternity house or lodge. For the boys staying at Brian Bergthold’s residence in Bella Vista, it is home.” In retrospect, it was a hellish place where the evening cocoa was spiked with liquor so that other boys would be knocked out while Bergthold fondled, videotaped (reportedly for an Internet audience ) and photographed one of his foster “sons” as the boy masturbated.

Fortunately for the foster care community and the community of Bella Vista, other victims came forward after the first complainant’s accusations were pooh-poohed and Bergthold was arrested in February or March of 2007. (News accounts differ. ) Charges were a few months in coming because there were other victims in Oregon.

Authorities confiscated hundreds of videotapes as well as pornographic photos of more than 40 young males from Bergthold’s Bella Vista residence. Some of the images were of Bergthold’s foster children. It took awhile to identify all of them because DHS did not have its own photos of many of them, an apparent breach of DHS policy. According to our reporter Seth Blomeley, Gov. Mike Beebe went on record this week as saying that fixing the state’s foster-care system is “absolutely” his No. 1 priority. That’s a mighty tall promise, governor, but we’ll hold you to it anyway.

—–––––•–––––—Associate Editor Meredith Oakley is editor of the Voices page.

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