Police: Woman accused in adoption scam may have killed child

Date: 2008-01-10
Source: iht.com

Police: Woman accused in adoption scam may have killed child

The Associated Press
Published: January 10, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida: Authorities believe a Florida woman charged in a lucrative adoption scam involving 11 disabled children from New York may have killed one of them and disposed of the body, a detective said Thursday.

Judith Leekin, 62, adopted the 11 children using four aliases to make money on the subsidies for their care, officials said. Nine of the children — now ages 15 to 27 — are now in Florida state custody. A 10th, now 19, remains on his own.

But authorities are considering a murder charge against Leekin as they try to find the 11th child, a boy named Shane Graham who would now be 19. He was last seen with Leekin in 1999 or 2000. The other adopted children have said Leekin told them he died.

The boy had Down's syndrome, autism and sickle cell anemia, among other serious afflictions, Port St. Lucie police Detective Stuart Klearman said.

"He couldn't feed himself, bathe himself, do anything for himself," Klearman said. "He couldn't walk or speak ... On his own, he could not survive."

The other children knew him only by his nickname, Moo. "He got that name because that's about the only sound he could make," Klearman said.

Authorities say Leekin kept the kids, many of them suffering from mental and physical handicaps, like prisoners in her home. They say the children were often handcuffed, beaten, starved and locked in a room, deprived medical care and not allowed to attend school.

Leekin adopted the children between 1988 and 1996, and they all moved to Florida in 1998.

New York City records indicate Leekin received more than $1.2 million in payments over the years for caring for the kids.

Authorities said turning to the public for help is the last step before considering a murder charge for the 11th child.

"There's been no trace of this kid anywhere," Klearman said. "But the money was still flowing to her. She falsified documents to keep it flowing. What other option do we have other than he is deceased?"

Leekin has been uncooperative, Klearman said.

A telephone message left for Leekin's public defender was not returned Thursday. She has declined several interview requests from The Associated Press. Leekin has pleaded not guilty to the abuse charges and remains held on more than $4 million (€2.7 million) bail.

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