Foster father licensed despite abuse reports

Relates to:
Date: 2006-07-25

Foster father licensed despite abuse reports

Girls tell their story after escaping to safety

July 25, 2006

Police, school counselors and state caseworkers described Enrique Fabregas as a drug user and repeatedly warned that he might be sexually abusing his adopted daughter.
Yet the state licensed him as a foster parent to two teenage girls, who say he subsequently assaulted and abused them for years.

Some 25 reports to child welfare officials detail with gruesome specificity the eight years that Ruth and Estera Tamas, now 18 and 19, lived with the on-again, off-again waiter -- at first unofficially, then as his foster children.

In one document, a police officer notes the "fresh track marks" on Fabregas' arms, indicating intravenous drug use; in another, a caller reports to state officials that Fabregas has slammed Estera against a wall; a later referral, from 2004, describes a videotape in which the same teenager is shown in a sexual act with her foster father.

Welfare officials are supposed to report sexual abuse to police, but decided that the 2004 report was without merit. They didn't alert police.

The state Department of Social and Health Services is expected to release documents today in the Fabregas case. But the Seattle P-I obtained hundreds of pages of them from other sources.

Fabregas, who was arrested in June after his foster daughters went to police, remains in jail on exploitation of a minor and child pornography charges.

The state's paper trail on Fabregas is voluminous. Years before the Tamas girls moved into his home, state social workers "expressed concerns regarding the relationship" between him and his adopted daughter, then 3, who had told day care workers about her father's "bad touch."

"I told Papa to stop," she said. "No, no, no."

The same child, then 8, came to school with a bruised face in 2001, saying Fabregas had bitten her, and a school counselor reported to the state, "There has been a lot of concern over the way he is with this child. Even other children are 'turned off' over the way he kisses and greets her when picking her up at school. The staff at the school state that he is 'all over her' physically all the time."

DSHS investigated each charge and deemed each unfounded, unsubstantiated or inconclusive due to lack of evidence, state officials said.

"We investigated and made determinations regarding whether or not child abuse or neglect occurred," said Mike Tornquist, who heads the foster care licensing division. "There was none founded."

Tornquist added that he was "confident in the work of the investigators throughout this case."

In February, however, after Estera Tamas finally went to police, Redmond Detective Jennifer Baldwin searched Fabregas' home and court documents report she found hundreds of pornographic photographs, movie clips, lingerie and dress-up props corroborating the girls' claims.

In some of the pictures, Baldwin said, he is posed wearing his foster daughter's underwear.

The Seattle P-I normally does not name alleged victims of sex crimes, but Estera Tamas has given her consent, as has her sister Ruth, who says she was physically, not sexually, abused.

A typical-looking teenager who favors bright toenail polish and flip-flops, Estera Tamas said the sexual assaults started when she was 12, shortly after Fabregas began dating her mother.

"I didn't tell anyone for a really long time," she said in a recent interview. "I was scared it was my fault and happened because of something I did."

Her fears, exacerbated by the knowledge that she would likely return to Fabregas' home after accusing him, led Tamas to constantly recant -- sometimes in writing -- which confounded state officials for years.

"The credibility issues in this case were extreme," said Tornquist, at the foster parent licensing division. Each investigator, he said, had reasons to not believe what Fabregas' foster daughters were saying.

"They can believe whatever they want, but at the end of the day, I know in my heart what happened to me and I would not wish it on anyone," Estera Tamas said.

Among the most troubling findings at Fabregas' home were photographs Baldwin said she found of a television screen, apparently airing home movies, that showed the man's youngest daughter in a sexual act. Another Polaroid "shows a preteen child in a sexually explicit pose," Baldwin wrote in court documents.

Fabregas admitted that the photographs belonged to him, she added.

"In hindsight, knowing what we know now, I would have never licensed him," Tornquist said.

The Tamas sisters have retained Seattle lawyer David Moody, well-known for successfully bringing two multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the Department of Social and Health Services, to investigate civil claims they may have against the state.

"I've never seen so many warnings," Moody said. "Before DSHS placed them with this man, there were warnings -- bright red warning flags. After the young girls were placed in this state-licensed foster home, the warning signs continued and intensified, unabated."

Beyond the earliest reports that Fabregas may have been abusing his adopted daughter, one other red flag might have been Fabregas' long history as an undercover drug informant -- employment he began in order to work off an arrest on cocaine charges.

In June, when retired Seattle police undercover agent Miles Hawkes learned that his onetime narc had been arrested on child pornography charges, he was shocked -- as much by the lack of state follow-through on Fabregas' background, he said, as by the criminal allegations themselves.

Tornquist, the state licensor, said he was unaware of Fabregas' law-enforcement job, despite letters of support in Fabregas' DSHS file from Seattle police.

"I would have no reservations in placing the children with him," wrote Seattle police narcotics detective Sheldon Sather in 2001, enthusiastically endorsing Fabregas' application as a foster parent.

Sather did not respond to a request for comment.

Hawkes said the flamboyant foster father, who drove a black Mustang with the license plate "WYSEGUY," was widely used by law enforcement, working for the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration as well as various local agencies. Despite the likelihood that this work would require him to consort with drug dealers, the job -- paying a few hundred dollars per case -- would not necessarily have disqualified him from being licensed as a foster parent, officials said.

"We look at each case individually," Tornquist said.

When not pointing officers toward drug dealers, Fabregas collected a monthly foster parent stipend of $1,050 to $2,650 from the state.

Money problems, nonetheless, were apparently so prevalent that Fabregas encouraged his foster children to shoplift their own clothes, a therapist complained to abuse investigators.

Mary Jean Smith, who took in Ruth Tamas when the then-16-year-old fled Fabregas' home in 2004, believes the state's paltry pay is only part of the problem.

"Teenagers are basically thrown away in this system," she said. "Almost no one will take them so we don't have enough good homes, and the state is forced to make decisions for these kids that are less than optimal. You end up with people who are doing it for the wrong reasons."

Safe from Fabregas when under Smith's care, Ruth Tamas finally relayed in detail her years at his home -- and kept to her story -- which prompted the teen's new foster mother to alert authorities.

But even Smith was rebuffed, writing half a dozen letters and following up with numerous phone calls. Fabregas' youngest charge, his adopted daughter, was still in the home, and the Tamas girls were terrified for her.

The state response was disappointing.

"We could not get one case worker to pay attention to this," Smith said, "because they just decided these girls were liars."

The state pulled Fabregas' license to be a foster parent in 2004 after he refused to undergo a sexual deviancy evaluation.


The state file on Enrique Fabregas has at least 25 referrals about the girls in his care. Police, school counselors and even state case workers reported for eight years their suspicions that Fabregas was abusing the children.

1996-2001: State investigators receive at least seven reports: Three allege that Fabregas is sexually abusing his adopted daughter, beginning at age 3. Three report that he is neglecting her and using drugs. Two also allege that he is physically abusing her.

2002: Ruth and Estera Tamas, ages 14 and 15, officially become Fabregas’ foster children. State investigators receive five reports saying Fabregas physically assaults the girls and encourages them to shoplift and consume cigarettes and alcohol.

2003: State investigators receive at least two reports alleging that Fabregas sexually abuses his youngest daughter.

2004: State investigators receive five reports that Fabregas is physically abusing and neglecting the girls. Another four reports allege sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. Ruth is removed from Fabregas’ home in May. Estera is removed in August. Fabregas’ youngest daughter remains.

2006: In February, Fabregas’ adopted daughter, now 12, is permanently removed from his home. Fabregas is arrested on suspicion of child rape and child molestation in June. He is eventually charged with possessing child pornography and taking explicit pictures of a teenage girl.

Source: Department of Social and Health Sciences

P-I reporter Claudia Rowe can be reached at 206-448-8320 or


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