The owners of the horse ranch where a pair of Minnesota sisters stayed during the two-and-a-half years they were missing are bidding to have charges against them dismissed.
Doug and Gina Dahlen were charged with felony deprivation of parental rights after Gianni and Samantha Rucki were found at their faith-based retreat, The White Horse Ranch in Herman, this past November.
Their stay at the ranch was allegedly arranged by their mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, with the help of a friend from St. Cloud, with the girls' whereabouts kept secret from their father, David Rucki.
But according to a motion filed with Dakota County, the Dahlens contend they made no effort to "hide, restrain or conceal" the teenagers since they arrived in April 2013 at the age of 13 and 14 – with the document even saying government and social services workers came to the ranch while they were there.
"Throughout their stay, the two teenage girls were out and about and generally involved in and around the community. They traveled into town, went out to eat at public restaurants and went on shopping trips to Fargo, Morris, Ashby, Elbow Lake, Hoffman and Alexandria. Although they were 'home schooled,' the girls often worked on neighboring farms, went on garage sale runs and attended church. They interacted with friends and family and had regular access to computers and cell phones. Nothing about their daily routine suggested any type of concealment or effort to hide them. Nor was there any remuneration provided by anyone."
Grazzini-Rucki was charged in November with three counts of felony deprivation of parental rights.
The girls' disappearance came after a bitter divorce battle, during which Grazzini-Rucki accused her husband of abusing her and the girls. But David Rucki has denied the allegations and says his ex-wife brainwashed the girls.
This claim of brainwashing was backed by a court-appointed psychologist. In November 2013, a Dakota County judge granted full custody to David Rucki saying there was no credible evidence that they were abused.
Girls 'scared' when they arrived at ranch
The motion to dismiss revealed that when the Rucki sisters arrived at the ranch, they were said to be "very emotional, crying and appeared scared."
"The girls gradually became more comfortable and shared their fears about their father and their concerns that he had restraining orders imposed and had violated just the same," the motion says.
"Each time the girls would begin to cry and begged the Dahlens to not take them back and threatened to run away. Aware of the safety risks that teen runaways present, the Dahlens’ let them stay," it adds.
The Star Tribune spoke to David Rucki on Tuesday, who said the Dahlens had no right to keep the girls there.
"Who are the Dahlens to make this judgment call?" he said. "They don’t know me. They don’t know my family. For them to be judge and jury over my family is ridiculous."
The girls, now 16 and 17, moved back in with their father around Christmas time, the newspaper notes, and have since returned to school.
According to the motion, the Dahlens have run their ranch since 2011, "unofficially serving children in the community since 2011," with youths aged 6-18 spending time on the ranch, with some referrals coming from Grant County Social Services and other local government agencies.