Rhode Island State Police Maj. Robert Creamer told the Providence Journal that Nicholas Rossi, who was wanted on fraud and sexual-assault charges, was located “about a month ago”—years after a woman claiming to be his wife said he had died of cancer. An obituary from February 2020 had alleged he died with his wife and two kids beside him, and told them “fear not and run toward the bliss of the sun,” just before his passing.
But the Utah County Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that Rossi, who also used the last name Alahverdian, had actually “fled the country to avoid prosecution in Ohio and attempted to lead investigators and state legislators in other states to believe that he was deceased.”
The Scottish Sun described Rossi as an “American fugitive,” wanted by Interpol after “cheating death from coronavirus.”
In 2008, Rossi was convicted on two sex-related charges stemming from an assault at an Ohio community college where he was a student at the time, according to the Journal. Ten years later, after evidence from that case was uploaded to a federal database, he was suspected in another sexual assault in Utah and other incidents “throughout the United States,” Utah investigators said.
“In 2018 the DNA profile from the Utah sexual assault came back as a match to a sexual assault case in Ohio,” authorities said. “Investigators also learned that Nicholas Rossi had fled the country to avoid prosecution in Ohio and attempted to lead investigators and state legislators in other states to believe that he was deceased.”
The February 2020 death announcement came just two months after Rossi, a prominent critic of Rhode Island’s child welfare program, claimed to reporters that he was facing his final days amid an apparent diagnosis of late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The children and families in the care of the Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) for whom he inspired and led through turbulent government transgressions have lost a warrior that fought on the front lines for two decades,” his obituary read.
Rossi had alleged that he was sexually abused as a kid at the hands of state agencies.
The timing of his apparent illness and sudden “death” had sparked rumors about the possibility that Rossi was trying to escape an FBI investigation stemming from a fraud complaint in Ohio.
Jeffrey Pine, a former Rhode Island attorney general previously told the Journal that Rossi was living in Ireland at the end of 2019 and that he had suspicions that his former client had staged his death after Rossi was contacted by an FBI agent about the complaint.
“The next thing I know he gets very, very sick with cancer and dies within weeks. Do I think it’s possible he’s alive? Of course I do,” Pine told the outlet during a Jan. 2021 interview.
His former foster mom, Sharon Lane, who filed the fraud complaint, previously told the Journal that Rossi had “the ability to pull the wool over so many people’s eyes.”
She says he left her with a mountain of debt after he fraudulently used her husband’s name to obtain nearly two dozen credit cards and loans that climbed to almost $200,000. Rossi’s former spouse, Kathryn Heckendorn, said he also owes her more than $60,000.
David Leavitt, the Utah County attorney, said that finding Rossi wasn’t easy.
Leavitt said in a statement that an initiative to review old sexual assault cases where the kits had not been tested had played a “significant role,” in helping to identify Rossi.
He credited the testing of the “backlogged kits,” including from the Utah sexual assault case, with enabling authorities to use DNA to locate Rossi at the Glasgow hospital even as he clawed away from culpability using various aliases.
It was not immediately clear when Rossi would be brought back to the United States but Leavitt’s office said it was working with federal and international agencies in the extradition effort.