By Burt Constable
In hindsight, that first red flag shouldn't have been ignored, says Nicole Fiumara, who speaks out now as a warning to women in Illinois.
From her home in Florida, Fiumara spent weeks in April 2015 building a loving online relationship with Rondan Keith of Grayslake and was ready to have him move in with her on that first day they met in person. In the car coming home from the airport, Keith confessed that he had something to tell her.
"Let me guess: You're a sex offender," Fiumara quipped. "I was being facetious, and he said, 'Yes.'"
Having formerly worked for a sheriff's department and participated in investigations, "I obviously was in shock," says Fiumara, 43. "I had Googled him, and nothing came up. I looked through his Facebook page for red flags. He was a typical family man -- outings with the kids, family vacations and a beautiful home."
Keith, 47, told her he had sex with a 16-year-old girl who he thought was an adult. "At the time, I believed him," Fiumara says. "He told me he wanted me to get to know his character before he told me, and I bought into it."
Keith, convicted in 1999 in Illinois of aggravated criminal sexual abuse with a minor, told her he had gone years without registering as a sex offender, as required by law, and would be arrested on charges of noncompliance if he tried to register in Florida.
"We really got to know each other very quickly. Did I really get to know him? Obviously not," Fiumara says of their online relationship that featured long computer video conversations. "He shared with me that he had been married for over 20 years and that he was a family man, and that his wife had passed on and he was looking for someone to share the rest of his life with."
Never married and having just turned 40, Fiumara says she thought, "This is meant to be."
A month later, when police arrested Keith at his job as a laborer for failing to register as a sex offender, Fiumara paid $2,500 to get him out of jail and used her house as collateral to ensure he would show up in court.
"It went downhill very quickly," says Fiumara, who is on disability. "In two months, I gave him over $6,000. He pulled a couple of disappearing acts. I woke up one morning, and my entire prescription bottle of painkillers were gone."
She revoked her bail money, and a bounty hunter picked up Keith. A technicality led to authorities' dropping charges that he failed to register as a sex offender. The relationship was over, and Fiumara changed the locks on her house.
"The morning of Thanksgiving, I woke up to a text message," Fiumara says.
"If I can't have you, no man will want you. Welcome to the club of HIV, that is your demise," Keith texted her, explaining how he carried the virus associated with AIDS. "Now live with it. I hate you, die in your own (obscenity) misery alone … I can watch you suffer and every day you will always know who gave you HIV."
Law enforcement records confirm that Keith has HIV. Fiumara says she has been tested several times and was assured she didn't have the disease. She got a restraining order from a judge. Even from jail, Keith violated that order by sending her a drawing of a man shooting her in the head, Fiumara says.
Last month, Keith pleaded no contest to felony crimes of unlawful transmission of a sexually transmitted disease and aggravated stalking in violation of an order and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Fiumara says she fears Keith, who lived for a time in Park Ridge and Des Plaines, might have infected women in Illinois. "They have the ability to press charges against him," she says. Criminal transmission of HIV is a felony punishable by three to seven years in prison.
Keith is 5-foot-6, 167 pounds with dark skin and tattoos of Chinese letters on his back, a star and the word "Freack" on his left arm, a panther on his right arm, and a sun and the word "Kasia" on his stomach.
"What he did was no different from trying to shoot me and have a firearm jam," Fiumara told the judge. "No one deserves this."