TROY, Ohio — The one-story, brick ranch-style home blends into the working-class neighborhood along Nutmeg Square in this western Ohio city, offering no signs of the terrible secrets it once concealed.
Its former owner will return to court in Dayton on Tuesday to be sentenced for guilty pleas to child rape and related charges in a haunting case that experts call unusual because the perpetrator was an adoptive father and the victims were three boys in his care. The pleas have all but ensured he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The 40-year-old man, whom the Associated Press isn’t naming to protect the children’s identities, said in an interview that he had been a foster parent, youth basketball coach, and substitute teacher for years without any problems. He said he didn’t adopt the boys with bad intentions.
‘‘I always wanted to protect kids,’’ he said during one of two interviews at the Miami County Jail. ‘‘Somewhere along the line, things went wrong.’’
In an era of stunning cases of sexual abuse of young boys by respected authority figures — priests, Boy Scout leaders, an assistant coach at a famed college football program — the repeated rapes of boys by an adoptive father who also arranged for two other men to rape one adopted son shocked his unsuspecting neighbors, investigators, and children’s services officials.
‘‘It was just devastating to hear about. It’s really sad for the kids,’’ said April Long, a mother of three who was their next-door neighbor.
Long and other neighbors say they didn’t suspect anything; the children played outside, and the man did neighborly things like pick up their mail or mow their lawn when they were away.
‘‘You think: ‘What could I have done? Is there something we missed that we should have seen?’’’ Long said, gazing at the home from her front porch lined with children’s bicycles.
The single man was a foster parent for six other children before he began adopting children in the past three years. He adopted a brother and sister and an unrelated boy, and was in the process of adopting another boy, all ages 9 to 12, when authorities arrested him a year ago Sunday following an undercover sting that began when a detective looked into an online posting about ‘‘taboo sex.’’
Ohio officials don’t believe there has been a comparable case in the state in recent years, and media reports over the past five years show only a handful of reported cases nationally in which adoptive fathers sexually abused children in their care. Child abuse by adoptive fathers is much rarer than by biological fathers, or by other male relatives and nonrelatives, federal studies have indicated.
‘‘This isn’t a typical situation. It certainly isn’t typical of people seeking adoption,’’ said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. ‘‘Most abusers of this sort have an interest in a child during a certain period of their development. They are looking for opportunities where they can get access to the kids. They don’t want to have custodial responsibility.’’
Fostering and adopting children meant passing background checks and other scrutiny, with home studies and follow-up visits by social workers.
The private adoption agency, Dayton-based Action Inc., has said little about the case other than to deny wrongdoing. The state reviewed its operations and noted some procedural violations but no reason to suspend or revoke the agency’s license.
All the children had been in Texas foster care before coming to Ohio through the agency, one of many that work through interstate agreements to find homes for some of the more than 100,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption at any given time in the United States.
The adoptive father said the three children appeared to be doing so well, he was asked by an agency employee to take a fourth.
The children were involved in sports, school, and church, and played with other children. They went trick-or-treating — snapshots from two Halloweens ago show the boys dressed as Green Lantern and Star Wars’s Darth Maul and the girl as a princess. They had Xboxes, Wiis, and other games and toys at home.
‘‘I loved my kids and wanted the best for them,’’ the man said.
He said he had been sexually abused as a child by a close family member and blames that for his feeling that he wasn’t doing anything wrong when he began taking the boys into his bed in what he said was a way of showing love.
‘‘I never forced the boys to do anything,’’ he said. ‘‘That might not mean anything to anyone else, but it’s important to me.’’
Apparently, no child ever hinted at any problem when separated from him by case workers for interviews.
After the man was arrested, the three children were placed in foster care in Ohio.