Adoptive mom of missing boys gets 42 years for welfare fraud

Date: 2012-03-23
Source: Th Gazette

Adoptive mom of missing boys gets 42 years for welfare fraud
March 23, 2012 4:46 PM

LANCE BENZEL
THE GAZETTE

A former Monument woman accused of pocketing more than $150,000 in welfare support while for years concealing the disappearance of two adopted boys was sentenced Friday to 42 years in prison.

Linda K. Bryant, 55, is unlikely “to see or even breathe free air again,” prosecutor Jennifer Viehmann said, calling it an appropriate fate, but adding that it doesn’t address the case’s central mystery.

“This case will never truly be over until we find these two boys,” she said.

The fate of Edward Dylan Bryant and Austin Bryant remains unknown despite efforts by El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies, who searched an area near Monument with cadaver dogs, went over aerial photography to look for soil disruptions and widely circulated age-progression photos.

Linda Bryant’s estranged husband, Edward Bryant, 58, faces an April 30 trial on similar welfare fraud charges. Neither was charged in the boys’ disappearances – but rather for a decade-spanning ruse in which they allegedly collected adoption support checks while falsely telling authorities the boys remained in their care.

The couple moved to Texas in 2005, shortly after authorities believe Austin went missing.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office investigated after receiving a call from a former neighbor of the Bryants who questioned their explanation about the boys’ disappearance.

The couple were estranged and living in separate Texas towns when they were arrested in March 2011.

At the time, Linda Bryant was living with five adopted children, who are now in the custody of a Texas child protective agency.

The missing boys were adopted in 2000, according to testimony at Friday’s hearing. The oldest, Edward Dylan Bryant, was last seen in 2001; Austin Bryant went missing as late as 2005. Each would have been 9 at the time.

Linda Bryant provided a variety of explanations for their disappearances, prosecutor J. Christian Lampe told the court.

Some of her relatives were told that Edward had gone to Arizona to help care for her 82-year-old father. Others were told he had been sent to a boot camp for bad behavior. One relative testified at the sentencing that Linda Bryant told her Austin was sent to an insane asylum in Colorado.

El Paso County sheriff’s deputy William Otto, the lead detective, told the court that another relative had lodged a complaint over Edward’s disappearance with the El Paso County Department of Human Services.

The detective said that “for some reason” a case worker was never sent.

Prosecutors say Linda Bryant was ready for a visit. One of her adopted children told investigators she asked him to have a friend come over and pretend to be Edward if a case worker ever came by.

DHS couldn’t be reached for comment because the sentencing ended after regular business hours. The agency generally declines to discuss investigations.

The Bryants left Colorado for Texas within two months of when authorities believe the second boy disappeared, Lampe said in court Friday.

In her Gainesville, Tex., home Linda Bryant hung color photographs printed from the Internet, telling the other adopted children they were Austin and Edward.

As a sheriff’s detective searched the residence, she told him: “This is the kind of thing that ends up on Nancy Grace,” a reference to a television program focused on sensational crime stories.

Bryant lived in a gated community in Texas, near a lake and a golf course — leading to Lampe’s charge she favored money over her children.

Bryant’s attorneys, Sarah Christiansen and Tom Hammond, and were unavailable for comment Friday.

Linda Bryant faced between 4 and 648 years in prison – an unusually wide sentencing range due to the number of counts, 56, to which she pleaded guilty.

In handing down his sentence, 4th Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz rejected the prosecution’s call for a “triple-digit sentence,” saying it would exceed the penalty for many homicide sentences in El Paso County.

At the same time, he told Bryant her crime was more severe than similar financial crimes because it required a systematic lie about missing children.

Schutz said her crime threatened to erode public support for adoption programs that help the community’s “most vulnerable citizens.”

The foster parents who properly care for such children, he said, “do some of the most important and difficult work that we ask of members of society.”


Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel
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