Editorial: Some measure of justice might come for victims of Judith Leekin of Port St. Lucie
Some measure of justice may finally be coming for 10 disabled children fraudulently adopted and horribly abused by Judith Leekin of Port St. Lucie.
According to The New York Times, lawyers for the children have proposed a $68 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against New York City and three contract adoption agencies that had placed the children in Leekin's custody.
Leekin apparently used four aliases to adopt the children, severely disabled with conditions including autism and mental retardation. She allegedly used some of the $1.68 million in payments to care for the children to pay for her Hawthorne Circle home in Port St. Lucie and another home in Sanford. Rather than caring for the children, Leekin caged them, restrained them with plastic ties, beat them, failed to feed them properly or give them medical care, and kept most of them out of school.
Her ability to adopt the children to support her lavish lifestyle represented a monumental failure of the adoption system in New York, which at the time did not cross-check names and addresses, verify references, require fingerprinting or Social Security numbers.
Leekin, 66, moved from New York to Port St. Lucie about 1998 but continued to receive payments for the care of the children, who are now mostly in their 20s, until her scheme was uncovered by Port St. Lucie police in 2007. That July, an 18-year-old girl who had lived in the Leekin home told authorities that her adoptive mother had abandoned her in St. Petersburg. As police investigated, they discovered the other children and disabled adults in her care and documents pointing to the adoption fraud.
The children and adults were turned over to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Leekin has been called a serial criminal who was able to avoid detection by keeping her adopted children and adults away from public view. She allegedly recognized the loopholes in the system and used them to her advantage. A federal judge in New York who sentenced her to 11 years in prison in 2008 on fraud charges described the woman as "diabolical." A judge in St. Lucie County who sentenced her to 20 years in prison in 2009 for abuse of children and disabled adults described her as "reprehensible."
If an agreement is reached on the proposed financial settlement in New York City, 10 of the adopted children will be able to pay for the care they need and specialized services that they have long been unable to receive. For them, there is some potential for a brighter future.
The same cannot be said for the 11th disabled child adopted in New York by Leekin. That 10-year-old boy, described as autistic and suffering from Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia, disappeared from her Port St. Lucie home about 1999. He has never been found and is presumed to be dead.
According to The New York Times, a lawyer for the children argued in August that the lawsuit be settled and payments made due to the "fragile, unstable and precious" condition of the victims. He cited three of the male adoptees between 19 and 24, saying one is on round-the-clock suicide watch, another fathered a child out of wedlock and is homeless, and a third had been arrested for alleged domestic violence against his older brother.
There is an Internet website called "People you will meet in hell." Judith Leekin is prominently featured. That seems about right.