Lawyers: Severely punish NY woman who abused kids

Date: 2008-07-14

Lawyers: Severely punish NY woman who abused kids

July 14, 2008
Associated Press

NEW YORK - Despite a plea deal, a woman who adopted and abused 11 disabled children while pocketing more than $1 million in subsidies should face up to 40 years in prison for inflicting "personal nightmares" on them, lawyers for the children told a judge Monday.

Lawyers for nine children outlined the abuses in a submission to U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who is scheduled to sentence 63-year-old Judith Leekin on Tuesday.

The judge said last week he might go above the 6{ to eight years in prison Leekin and prosecutors agreed to when she pleaded guilty in May to federal mail and wire fraud charges.

The plea deal also called for Leekin to forfeit $1.68 million in subsidies collected since she began the adoptions in 1988.

Leekin has admitted using false names to adopt the children and sending phony school report cards to qualify for government subsidies. She also admitted restraining the children with plastic ties, preventing them from getting out of bed and not sending them to school.

The lawyers for nine of the children, many of whom are now adults, argued that the victims spent their lives "like property, warehoused in basements, garages, bathrooms and other uninhabitable locations."

"All were abused constantly," the lawyers said. "All of them lived in fear. All were practically starved and were found in varying stages of malnourishment, some close to death."

They said Leekin "spent at least 23 years perpetrating this fraud, and these victims have spent almost the same time in their own personal nightmares."

The lawyers said the abuse began with a 5-year-old autistic boy, identified as S.B., who "essentially lived in a bucket where he would eat, sleep, urinate and defecate."

They said S.B., now an adult, "spent a lifetime experiencing being hit on the head with an iron, being regularly beaten for any small transgression and tied up at night like a prisoner."

The lawyers quoted S.B. as telling them: "Man, I've seen some things you would not believe. I've seen things no one should have to see."

The lawyers said the siblings of a profoundly retarded and autistic girl recalled her pulling her decaying teeth out because she lacked dental care. They said another child was left to stare at the sun through a magnifying glass for so long that he lost his vision.

Other children were handcuffed or tied to crib rails, were hit with iron rods and electrical cords or had their hands burned on a stove, the lawyers said.

In a separate submission Monday, Fort Pierce, Fla., Chief Assistant Public Defender Diamond R. Litty, representing Leekin, asked the judge to sentence Leekin within the agreed-to range, saying she had cooperated with authorities in New York and Florida to resolve the case quickly and had not fought the seizure of her two homes.

He said she faces charges in Florida that carry a maximum prison term of 120 years.

"Ms. Leekin's day of reckoning for the abuse charges is properly in Florida," he said.

A submission by prosecutors Monday described how Leekin carried out her crimes, saying she used at least four names to adopt children and repeatedly misrepresented how many other children were in her care and the disabilities they had.

Leekin, a high school dropout from Trinidad, adopted the children in New York between 1988 and 1996. In 1998, she moved the adopted children from Queens to Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Prosecutors said that from 2004 through July 2007, the adopted children slept on the floor of a storage room abutting the garage and entered the house only to use the bathroom or kitchen. They say Leekin used the adoption money to support a lavish lifestyle.

The children are now 16 to 28. Nine are in foster or group homes. Another lives on his own in Florida. One child is missing and presumed dead.

The government noted that the plea deal called for neither side to seek a sentence outside the stipulated range. Thus, it called the range it had agreed to "fair and reasonable."


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