New York Stymied Fla. Adoption Inquiry

Date: 2007-08-07

New York Stymied Fla. Adoption Inquiry

NY Officials Stymied Fla. Inquiry in 1999 Into Woman Now Charged in Adoption Scam

By BRIAN SKOLOFF
The Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.

Florida officials investigating child abuse allegations against a woman now accused in an adoption scam were stymied in 1999 because New York officials couldn't find any record of her then.

Judith Leekin was charged last month with abusing 11 adopted children by keeping them handcuffed and forced to soil themselves, while lining her pockets with $1.26 million in stipends she was supposed to use to care for them. Her attorney has filed a not guilty plea.

She first came to authorities' attention eight years ago, when the Florida Department of Children and Families got tipped that was abusing children adopted from New York. Florida authorities then contacted the New York City Administration for Children's Services, according to records unsealed by a judge Monday after The Palm Beach Post fought for their release.

In a Feb. 22, 1999, letter to the New York agency, a Florida investigator wrote, "I am trying to locate 11 children who are reportedly in her (Leekin's) care at this time."

The Florida investigator included in the letter three aliases for Leekin and two Social Security numbers and requested any information about her being a foster parent or having adopted children in New York.

The New York agency responded that it had "no active records on Judith in the system," according to the 1999 Department of Children and Families report. "Files show there may have been some type of case in the past, but does not indicate what. Would need kids' names to thoroughly search records."

The Florida agency closed the case without finding any evidence of abuse.

Stacey Cason, who investigated the case for the Department of Children and Families and made the inquiry of New York officials, said she did the best job she could. She has since left the job.

"I just couldn't believe it was a case I had been involved in," Cason, 33, told The Associated Press. "It's just heartbreaking."

"We're still looking into all aspects of this investigation," said Sheila Stainback, a spokeswoman for the New York City agency. She declined further comment.

<!-- page -->Leekin, 62, of Port St. Lucie, used four aliases over two decades in New York City to adopt the 11 children, police said. She remains held on more than $4 million bail on 10 charges, including child abuse.

She is accused of handcuffing the children and tethering them together at night, forcing them to sleep on a floor and soil themselves because they weren't allowed to use the bathroom.

She could face as many as 190 years in prison if convicted of all 10 counts.

The adopted children remained in Leekin's care until her arrest last month.

Authorities showed up at Leekin's house in 1999 after receiving a report from a tipster that she abused the kids, including beating a 12-year-old boy with an iron bar. Another tip warned that she had a number of kids in the home, either as foster children or adopted kids.

Officials found at least three boys living with Leekin, but she said they belonged to a relative who was in Japan. The boys told investigators Leekin treated them well and denied that there were any other kids living in the home.

Investigators from the Department of Children and Families never made contact with any of the actual 11 adopted children because Leekin apparently was hiding them, Egan said. But nothing at that point suggested the kids even existed, she said.

According to police, Leekin often threatened the children and hid them when visitors came to the home.

The adopted children now range in age from 15 to 27. Ten of the children and adults are now in Florida state care. One is blind and mumbles. Another can barely walk or stand. All have scars on their wrists and ankles, apparently from being tied and handcuffed. None appears to have more than a fourth-grade education.

Associated Press writer Adam Goldman in New York contributed to this report.

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