Allentown, PA – A 45-year-old married man who ran off to Mexico with his daughter’s 16-year-old friend has pleaded guilty to corruption of minors.
Kevin Esterly pled guilty to the misdemeanor count as a condition of a plea agreement with the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office, Lehigh Valley Live reported.
In exchange, felony charges of concealment of the whereabouts of a child and interference with custody of children have been withdrawn.
Esterly and the 16-year-old girl, Amy Yu, became the subjects of an international search after the duo hopped a one-way flight to Cancun, Mexico, on March 5.
Yu’s family reported her as a runaway the same day.
On Mar. 7, Esterly’s family reported him as missing.
Mexican authorities located Esterly and Yu in Playa del Carmen on Mar. 17, and sent them to Miami.
Yu told investigators that she had been planning to run away from home, and said she purchased her own ticket to Cancun, The Morning Call reported.
She claimed that Esterly was like a father to her, and that he decided to come with her as a protector, using funds he stole from his wife and Yu’s mother.
“She emphatically denied any sexual relationship with him,” Lehigh County Chief Deputy District Attorney Matthew Falk said, according to The Morning Call. “And she said she was planning on going there anyway.”
Esterly admitted that he “made a bad decision,” but maintained his claims that his relationship with Yu was innocent.
The Yu and Esterly families first met at church approximately eight years ago.
Yu became friends with Esterly’s daughter, and often accompanied them on vacations and other family activities.
According to Esterly, Yu began spending even more time with them during the summer of 2017, when her relationship with her mother, Miu Luu, turned volatile, The Morning Call reported.
In February, Luu learned that Esterly had checked her daughter out of school on at least 10 occasions while he pretended to be her stepfather, police said.
After Luu contacted the police about the situation, Esterly and his now-estranged wife showed up at Luu’s home and caused a disturbance.
Police subsequently warned Esterly to stay away from the residence.
During his court hearing on Thursday, Esterly tried to convince Judge Maria Dantos that he was like a protective father to Yu, and that he was only trying to help her.
He noted that he ran her to cheerleading practice, took her to get her learner’s permit, and that Yu even opted to put him down as an emergency contact at her school.
“If it is as innocent as you want us to believe, why didn’t you clear that with her mother?” Dantos asked Esterly about his trip to Mexico with the teenager. “Why did you not stay away from her when police told you?”
“When you say Amy is like one of your children, that’s not true, is it?” Dantos balked. “You didn’t take them out of the country. You didn’t take them out of school secretly. I’m fairly certain you know where I’m going with this.”
The judge suggested to Esterly that he come up with more accurate statements about the situation by the time he returns for sentencing on Dec. 10.
“I’m asking for the truth, and the truth is not what you just told me,” she said.
Esterly’s estranged wife and Luu are both expected to testify during the sentencing hearing.
Yu, who has not spoken to her mother since she was brought back from Mexico, has been living at a home for at-risk teens. She tried to run away from the group home this past summer.
During the hearing, Falk told Dantos that Yu’s decision to stick with her version of events hindered his ability to pursue the felony charges that had been pending against Esterly – one of which would have required him to register as a sex offender for 15 years.
“Quite frankly, if this had gone to trial, Amy would have appeared as a witness for the defendant,” Falk told the judge.
Luu’s attorney, Everett Cook, said he has filed a federal lawsuit against Esterly on her behalf.
“I believe as counsel for the mom that there was a sexual component between Kevin and Amy,” Cook said. “It is terrible that he has ruined the relationship between mom and daughter.”