Grazzini-Rucki chooses prison over probation, jail sentence

Dave Rucki shares victim impact statement in court

A former Lakeville resident who hid her two teen daughters for more than two and a half years during a custody battle was sentenced in Dakota County court Wednesday.

Lakeville resident Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was sentenced to 250 days in jail and six years of probation today. She was with her attorney Stephen Grigsby (left) and behind her is Judge Karen Asphaug. (Photo provided with permission from Star Tribune - Glen Stubbe)
Lakeville resident Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was sentenced in Dakota County court Sept. 21. She is with her attorney Stephen Grigsby (left) and behind her is Judge Karen Asphaug. (Photo provided with permission from Star Tribune – Glen Stubbe)

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was sentenced to 250 days in jail and six years probation after a jury convicted her in July of six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights.

Grazzini-Rucki was ordered to serve the rest of her jail sentence in 15-day increments for the next six years, reporting to jail on Nov. 18 – the day her two daughters were found by law enforcement – starting in 2017.

She was ordered participate in the sentence-to-serve program for 12 days each year for the next six.

Grazzini-Rucki, of Stillwater, was smiling as she was arrested in court at the end of sentencing hearing and was ordered immediately to serve a 34-day jail sentence.

After the sentencing hearing Grazzini-Rucki, who has already served 133 days in jail, through her attorney demanded the execution of her sentence, which will require her to serve an additional 233 days in prison and removes the 15-day annual jail time and the sentence-to-serve provisions, according to the Dakota County Attorney’s Office. An additional court hearing is needed to finalize the process.

She had previously served 133 days in jail, both in Minnesota and Florida, where she was arrested on Oct. 18, 2015 at an upscale resort by U.S. Marshals.

At the Sept. 21 hearing, Grazzini-Rucki was ordered to pay two $944 fines – the dollar amount is the number of days the two girls were missing – along with $10,000 in restitution to the Minnesota Crime Victims’ Reparations Board. The organization expended this amount for family reunification services. She will also pay additional restitution for any future counseling expenses, which may be incurred by the victims.

The children’s father David Rucki said he felt the jail time in the original sentence was appropriate.

“It’s not about retribution,” Rucki said. “It’s about being accountable … that’s all I’m looking for is accountability.”

During the hearing, Rucki read a victim impact statement asking Grazzini-Rucki to “get the help she desperately needs to begin repairing the damage she has caused” their family.

“My words are lost on Sandy, and I have my doubts that she can even comprehend the pain and trauma she has inflicted on her children,” Rucki said in court.

Grazzini-Rucki, who will turn 51 on Sept. 30, testified at her trial she picked up her daughters Samantha and Gianna Rucki, then 14 and 13 years old on April 19, 2013, after they ran from their Lakeville home, barefoot and without jackets through the snow.

She said she left them two days later in the care of strangers at the White Horse Ranch in Herman, Minnesota, telling them she would pick them up in about three days.

She never returned or contacted them again.

The girls were discovered by law enforcement executing a search warrant at the ranch on Nov. 18, 2015, as part of an extensive search effort led by Lakeville police.

At sentencing, David Rucki said Grazzini-Rucki is “not the same woman” he married 25 years ago.

“Sadly, that woman is gone,” David Rucki said.

He said he questions if Grazzini-Rucki is able to comprehend the harm she has caused their children.

“Sandy no longer understands what it means to be a parent,” he said, “and therefore I do not believe she understands what she took from me, or more importantly, our children.”

While the children were missing, David Rucki worried, searched and worked with police to find the girls.

Lakeville police said Grazzini-Rucki and a group of people who distrust the courts worked against their efforts to find the girls.

At her trial, Grazzini-Rucki testified she was dishonest with officials and refused court orders to provide information about the girls’ whereabouts to protect them from David Rucki because he abused herself and their children.

David Rucki has always denied those claims and testified at her trial he never abused the children or Grazzini-Rucki.

Samantha Rucki and the former couple’s eldest child Nico Rucki also testified their father never abused them or their mother.

David Rucki was given sole custody of all five of their children Nov. 25, 2013, in a 63-page order granted while the girls were still missing.

In the victim impact statement, David Rucki described the emotional impact of the situation on the former couple’s five children.

He said Grazzini-Rucki created an environment of “paranoia and fear” with their children in an effort to convince them, “and the world, that I was a monster.”

Dakota County Attorney Kathryn Keena alleged that during the divorce and custody dispute, Grazzini-Rucki actively worked to turn the children against their father, a process known as parental alienation or hostile aggressive parenting, according to the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization.

David Rucki said Nico Rucki was torn between his desire to trust and believe his mother and his need to “finally tell the truth.”

David Rucki in a previous interview with the newspaper that the pain he experienced while the girls were missing was “unbearable.”

In court, he said one of the worst days during the 944 days his children were missing was when reporter Trish Van Pilsum from FOX-9 news “showed up uninvited to my home.”

David Rucki said the girls had been missing 10 days, and at the end of the interview with Van Pilsum, she told him she had interviewed his missing daughters.

“She refused to share any information on their location with me or law enforcement,” David Rucki said. “She left me helpless, knowing that she alone could help bring me to my girls yet hiding behind the shield of journalistic integrity.”

David Rucki said he never doubted Grazzini-Rucki was involved with the girls’ disappearance because after they were gone she served him court papers that included letters signed by them.

Also charged in the case is Dede Evavold, an acquaintance of the Dahlens who led Grazzini-Rucki to the ranch.

Grazzini-Rucki described Evavold as a family court activist who helps people dealing with legal issues in family matters.

Evavold’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 26.

The Dahlens are also charged with two felony counts of deprivation of parental rights in the case, and asked for immunity in exchange for testimony at the Grazzini-Rucki trial.

Dakota County Judge Karen Asphaug denied the motion.

Doug Dahlen’s jury trial is set for Jan. 23, 2017, and Gina Dahlen’s jury trial date is Feb. 7, 2017, according to court records.

David Rucki said he is relieved the girls are home, and the family has gone through reunification therapy.

He has a strong relationship with Nico Rucki and all four of their minor children are living with him in their Lakeville home.

At the end of Rucki’s statement he spoke directly to his children: “You are the reason I made it through this. You are the light at the end of every day. You are my strength, my joy, my life. I would do this again a hundred times if I had to because it would mean in the end I would have you, all five of you.”

  • Maria NoGames

    Coming from a personal experience with an abusive relationship in 1992, I was initially willing to overlook the fact that this woman took her children, because she cried abuse. Once I found that she took her children, not to be with them in a “safe environment”, but merely to abandon them to strangers, all my sympathy went to the father and children. How dare she steal her children only to abandon them with strangers?? She did this with no regard for the children, simply to hurt the father. She got off lightly, in my opinion.

  • Brian Patronie

    The sentence is extraordinarily light, if this was about the father instead of the mother I dare say the sentence would be several years to be served at once, not in weekly increments…

  • jamie campbell

    It is scary that there are so many people like this out there.