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An earnest high school student who impressed community leaders turned out to be a 23-year-old Ukrainian who had overstayed his visa and had sex with an underage girl, prosecutors said Thursday.
Asher Potts was well into his senior year in high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when police got a tip that the teenager was not the person he claimed to be.
"He came here to do what many immigrants do, to take part in the American dream."
Investigators soon concluded Potts, who was a student representative to the school board, was actually Artur Samarin.
His arrest last week, charged first with identity theft, drew astonished responses from people who knew the boyish-looking Samarin through his participation in a school military program, his academic excellence and his acceptance to a prestigious flight school.
"My understanding is his motives were pure coming over here, and given his time at John Harris [High School], no one had a complaint about him," said his lawyer, Adam Klein. "Until that's proven differently, that's my feeling at this point — that he came here to do what many immigrants do, to take part in the American dream."
Prosecutors have since filed new charges of statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors and said that they are working with federal investigators to piece together the facts about Samarin. More charges are possible, they said.
One aspect of the case that has drawn the attention of investigators is the role played by Michael and Stephayne Potts, with whom he lived for much of the past four years before moving in months ago with another family.
Samarin told Harrisburg station WHTM-TV last week in a call from jail that his family pooled money to send him to the U.S. "for a better life." After his visa expired, he said, the Pottses helped him obtain a birth certificate and a fake Social Security card in the name of Asher Potts.
He accused the couple of using his illegal immigration status as leverage to pressure him into doing work for them.
"Everything they ask of me, I could not tell them no," he told the station.
Court records say the couple "conspired with" Samarin in faking his way through high school, but they have not been charged.
Their lawyer, Corky Goldstein, said Thursday it was the Pottses who first alerted authorities about Samarin by contacting the FBI months ago. Goldstein would not say what motivated the couple to contact authorities, but said that they thought he was younger than he is and that they did not know he was having sex with the girl. They deny his claim he was pressured to work for them.
Samarin had left the Pottses and was living in a shelter several months ago when Waleed McClintock and his family let him move in with them in nearby Middletown.
McClintock said he was troubled by what he and his wife saw of the Pottses' relationship with Samarin and equally impressed by the young man's drive.
Samarin, who shared a bedroom with McClintock's 17-year-old son, would rise before 5 a.m. to get a bus to school. He took college-level classes at night and also worked at a grocery store.
"This is the worst that Ukraine has to offer? OK, you can ship another busload over here," McClintock said Thursday. "He was a very impressive young man. He was respectful and intelligent and seemed to have a plan for his life."
Police said that by the time Samarin's tourist visa expired in March 2013, he already nearly finished his freshman year at John Harris, better known as Harrisburg High School, despite having attended two years of college in Ukraine.
"By all accounts he was an excellent student," Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said. "He was involved in the community, he was in the ROTC program, he did community service."