Adoption terror

Ex-Queens woman facing charges after police say they found her 11 adopted kids had been mistreated

BY ZACHARY R. DOWDY
zachary.dowdy@newsday.com; This story was supplemented with an Associated Press report

July 31, 2007

A former Laurelton woman has been charged in Florida with multiple child abuse charges stemming from what police say was her mistreatment - for more than a decade - of 11 children she had adopted while living in New York City.

Judith Leekin, 62, now of Port St. Lucie, Fla., faces five counts of aggravated child abuse, false identification, witness tampering and four counts of aggravated abuse of an elderly or disabled adult.

Five teenagers and four developmentally disabled adults were found in Leekin's home at the time of her arrest in Florida, malnourished and poorly treated, according to Port St. Lucie police.

The whereabouts of another 18-year-old man were unclear yesterday.

Some media reports said the children and adults, when found by police earlier this month, had scars on their bodies, including burns on their wrists.

They range in age from 15 to 27. One is blind and mumbles. One can barely walk or stand. One can't read. But authorities said they do not know if the handicaps are a result of abuse.

While under Leekin's care, they had often been handcuffed together with plastic ties and bound together for so long that they soiled themselves, police said. Leekin is being held on $4.5 million bail at the St. Lucie County Jail in Florida in connection with what officials described as a scheme to defraud the city of thousands of dollars in adoptive care payments. Meanwhile, police said she was neglecting the children, who may be mentally disabled.

Officials at New York City's Administration for Children's Services said Leekin, who could not be reached for comment last night, adopted children from at least four adoption agencies in New York City between 1993 and 1996.

"It's abhorrent to everyone at Children's Services and the larger child welfare community who work so hard to identify strong, loving adoptive families to think that someone would adopt children and then mistreat them," said ACS Commissioner John B. Mattingly.

The case came to light on July 4 in St. Petersburg, when police received a call from a grocery store that a teenager was there wandering aimlessly. The 18-year-old woman, who said she has been with Leekin for 13 years, said Leekin drove her there and abandoned her after telling her they were going to an amusement park.

Police and child welfare workers went to Leekin's home, but found nothing awry. Just one child was with her in the house, and Leekin told investigators the 18-year-old ran away a year ago.

But police soon returned, and this time they found all the children, who they said had apparently been hiding on Leekin's orders.

Leekin was arrested July 18.

This story was supplemented with an Associated Press report.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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Adoption scandal stretches from NYC to FL

Woman accused of adopting kids for money, while abusing them

- In Florida, a woman is accused of relying on mass adoptions to collect support payments from New York City. Authorities say those payments did little to help the adopted children she allegedly abused.

Eyewitness News reporter Carolina Tarazona reports from ACS headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

Judith Leekin is now being charged with aggravated child abuse, false identification and witness tampering. She was arrested and is now behind bars in Florida. Bail has been set for her at over $4 million.

Police say that in the mid 90s, Leekin, then from Queens, adopted eleven children from at least four different adoption agencies here in New York City.

Nine of the children, many of them disabled, were found this month in Leekin's home in Port Saint Lucie. The children say that for years, Leekin often bound them with handcuffs and plastic ties. They also say she denied them access to schools, medical care, even food.

New York investigators say Leekin arranged the adoptions, using multiple names, and for each new child, she took elaborate precautions to keep city case workers from ever seeing other adopted children in her home.

"It appears on the surface that this was done for profit," says Capt. Scott Bartal of the Port Saint Lucie police department.

Public records show Leekin owns a home in Sanford, Florida worth nearly $250,000 dollars. Her home in Port Saint Lucie, is worth more than $350, 000.

"The manner in which the person we're looking at lived, their lifestyle, the properties they owned. The only source of income we can attribute this to is the income for caring for these people," says Capt. Bartal.

Eyewitness News is told Leeking could have earned between $22 and $55 a day, per child and that's money that was supposed to go toward the children's care and education.

9 N.Y. Kids Abused by Florida Woman

By CATHY BURKE, Post Wire Services

July 31, 2007 -- Nine teens and young adults adopted in New York were cruelly abused, starved and shackled like prisoners in their Florida home by a heartless scam-artist mom who lived off money meant for the kids, authorities said.

The hundreds of thousands of dollars came courtesy of New York taxpayers.

The children were often bound together with plastic ties, allowed to soil themselves and bore scars and burns, Florida investigators said.

None appeared to have more than a fourth-grade education.

All were starving.

But mom Judith Leekin, 62, may have been pocketing up to $180,000 a year, and owned two houses and several cars.

"Horrible, I think, would be the best word used to describe what was going on in that house," Port St. Lucie, Fla., police Capt. Scott Bartal said last week when the heartbreaking case came to light.

Using five aliases to adopt the kids and set up different accounts, Leekin, formerly of Laurelton, Queens, had been getting checks from New York since 1993 - collecting anywhere from $23 a day for a "normal" child to $55 a day for a child with "exceptional" needs.

"It's pretty extraordinary," admitted Administration for Children's Services spokesman Sharman Stein.

"It was so complicated, having adopted children fraudulently and using wire transfers since some of the money went in various accounts."

Leekin was charged with aggravated child abuse, false identification and witness tampering, as well as aggravated abuse of an elderly or disabled adult because some of her charges were over 21. She's being held on $4.5 million bail at the St. Lucie County Jail.

"It's abhorrent to everyone at Children's Services and the larger child-welfare community who work so hard to identify strong, loving adoptive families to think that someone would adopt children and then mistreat them," ACS Commissioner John B. Mattingly said.

ACS suspended payments and requested court orders to unseal and release the closed adoption case files from the foster-care agencies that handled the adoptions, as well as legal records from Queens and Nassau Surrogate and Family courts, Mattingly said.

Authorities said the young victims ranged in age from 15 to 27. One is blind and mumbles. One can barely walk or stand. One can't read.

Officials don't know if the handicaps resulted from the abuse.

The case broke July 4 in St. Petersburg, Fla., where cops got a call from a grocery store that a teenager was wandering aimlessly.

The 18-year-old woman, who said she has been with Leekin for 13 years, said her adoptive mom drove her there and abandoned her after telling her they were going to an amusement park.

She told cops Leekin threatened to cut her head off if she told anyone what was happening.

What authorities subsequently learned was stunning.

"At times when they were restricted with handcuffs or zip ties, during the night, they soiled themselves because they weren't permitted to go to the bathroom," Bartal said.

They were fed only noodles, and "they would have eventually starved to death."

 

Review of abuse charges against PSL woman deepens

By Derek Simmonsen (Contact)
Sunday, July 29, 2007

PORT ST. LUCIE — Investigators are planning to meet this week to review evidence in the case against Judith Leekin as they look into whether she committed fraud by collecting money from New York state to pay for adults and children she has been accused of abusing.

New York adoption records are expected to be in the hands of local investigators early this week and police, federal investigators and the State Attorney's Office plan to meet this week to review evidence, according to Assistant State Attorney Jeff Hendricks, one of the prosecutors assigned to the case. Formal charges related to the abuse are expected to be filed against Leekin, 62, this week, though the fraud investigation is just beginning, he said.

The FBI has been assisting with the investigation and it is possible that federal charges could be filed against her. Investigators are hoping information from the adoption records — which required a judge's order to release — would allow them to confirm the identities of the four children and five adults believed to have been adopted over a period of several years.

The case began earlier this month after Leekin allegedly abandoned an 18-year-old woman in her care at a Publix in St. Petersburg and an investigation revealed children and adults living with her were malnourished, socially isolated and kept bound with plastic zip ties and handcuffs, according to police reports. Leekin remains at the St. Lucie County Jail in lieu of more than $4 million bail on charges of aggravated child abuse, aggravated elderly or disabled abuse and other charges.

Investigators suspect Leekin received money for those in her care from New York and the federal government — possibly thousands of dollars a month — but exactly how much money she received and under what conditions remain unclear. She goes by several aliases and it is thought she used more than one name to adopt the children.

Search warrants served at Leekin's Port St. Lucie home corroborated some of the details children told police, such as locks on the outside of doors, though later searches of a safe and storage facility owned by Leekin found no new evidence, according to court records. Police wrote in one warrant application that it appeared Leekin had begun to remove items from her homes and some of the documents they discovered were shredded or had information deliberately obscured.

Leekin's defense attorney has so far declined to comment on the charges. He has entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf.

Investigators are trying to freeze bank accounts owned by Leekin and are planning to use information gained during the fraud investigation to support the move. In addition to finding out whether Leekin broke any rules in the adoption process itself, investigators also will look at whether she committed fraud by getting state and federal money and then not using it to care for the children and adults, Hendricks said.

Among the adults in her care, one appeared "brainwashed" and another showed "obvious signs of medical, dental neglect," according to police reports. A doctor with the Department of Children & Families wrote in a report the adults were often restrained with zip ties and handcuffs and slept on a small hallway floor with only a sheet and single pillow for comfort.

Spectators

As far as I'm concerned cases like these prove government agencies are hurting, not helping children and families.  Between wars, mandatory minimums, negligent foster-care services, and baby-abduction scams through safe haven laws,  it's a wonder any child from foster-care or adoption rises above this government-funded and founded mess at all.

Good Lord, how does the general public not know all of this -- or do they turn a deaf dumb ear and blind eye to it all and care to focus on the latest Angelina-Brad ordeal instead?

I need a drink.

CBS Noon News on Leekin...

The last sentence stated was "Government aided her three million dollars."

I went to the website to make a comment.

They're closed to public statements.

Surprised?

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/20/national/main3079793.shtml?source=mostpop_story

Fake names helped mom adopt 11 New York children: welfare agency

from: Newsday.com

By BRIAN SKOLOFF

Associated Press Writer

4:35 PM EDT, August 2, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.

A woman accused of abusing her 11 adopted children and bilking New York City out of nearly $1.3 million gained custody of the kids through six adoption processes using four fakes names, authorities said Thursday.

Judith Leekin, of Port St. Lucie, used the four aliases at separate agencies in New York City to adopt the children between July 1988 and April 1996 and never once used her real name, said Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the New York City Administration for Children's Services, a child welfare agency.

Stein said Leekin, 62, received $1.26 million in stipends to help care for the kids.

Authorities in Florida, however, say she received up to $2 million in payments from New York City. They say the children _ who now range in age from 15 to 27 _ told them Leekin never took them to see a doctor or dentist and never allowed them to attend school.

Leekin is charged with 10 counts of abuse, among other things. She handcuffed the children and tethered them together at night, forcing them to sleep on a cold tile floor and soil themselves because they weren't allowed to use the bathroom, prosecutors said. She could face up to 190 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Her attorney, Mario Garcia, said he has filed a not guilty plea. Her arraignment is set for Aug. 17.

Leekin's biological son spoke out recently in his mother's defense.

"She's a loving caring mom and grandma," the son told New York's WCBS-TV, which did not name him and did not show his face. "I'm her only son. ... You don't see me driving a BMW. I'm renting my apartment. The $2 million I'd love to see."

Port St. Lucie police have said that Leekin would likely face more charges and that others could be arrested for helping her. They would not elaborate.

The Florida Department of Children & Families investigated a complaint of child abuse against Leekin in 1999, but the case was later closed and the records are sealed.

"There was absolutely no indication of child abuse on any of the victims that they saw at that time," DCF spokeswoman Ellen Higinbotham said.

However, New York City officials said they have no record of Florida ever contacting them in 1999, a move that may have raised red flags since Leekin never used her real name to adopt the children.

"But that would be considered part of standard practice if they wanted to see what the earlier jurisdiction might have known about this individual," Stein said.

Higinbotham could not say whether such a call was made. However, she said DCF investigators would not be required to determine whether the children were adopted or where they were from. She declined to say whether DCF knew in this case that the children had been adopted in New York.

New York City officials believe Leekin may have been able to fool the system because it wasn't until 1999 that adoption agencies there began requiring fingerprints from prospective parents.

Stein said Leekin adopted her first child using an alias in July 1988. She said Leekin then adopted three more under another alias in May 1993 and three more using yet another fake name in June 1994. She said Leekin adopted two more children _ one in December 1994 and one in June 1995 _ using that alias and then adopted two more under a fourth false name in April 1996.

Authorities allege Leekin was using the children as a cottage industry to line her pockets with subsidy payments while abusing and neglecting them.

People who adopt special needs children in New York City can get as much as $55 a day until the child turns 21. Stein said all the children adopted by Leekin were deemed to have special needs.

Ten of the children and adults are now in Florida state care. One is blind and mumbles. Another can barely walk or stand. None appears to have more than a fourth-grade education.

Police were still searching for an 18-year-old believed to have been among the 11 adopted children.

 

Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press

Cops: Ex-Queens woman may have killed adoptee

from: newsday.com

BY CARL MACGOWAN

carl.macgowan@newsday.com

7:57 PM EST, January 10, 2008

Florida police say they believe a former Queens woman charged in an adoption scam may have killed one of the 11 children she took into her care.

Shane Graham, 19, who has autism, Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia, has not been seen in almost eight years, since the woman who adopted him, Judith Leekin, took him from their Port St. Lucie, Fla., home and returned without him, police said Thursday.

Police Thursday, in a last-ditch effort to solve the case, held a morning news conference to ask for the public's help in locating Graham. Six hours later, they had no leads, said Officer Robert Vega, a Port St. Lucie police spokesman.

"Whether he's alive or dead, we don't know," Vega said. "But I can tell you that everything is pointing to that he's deceased."

Leekin, 62, has been in St. Lucie County Jail on $4.5 million bail since July, when she pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of child abuse.

Graham, known as "Moo" for one of the few sounds he can make, went missing in 1999 or 2000, Vega said.

Leekin told her other adopted children and a caretaker that Graham died, Vega said.

The possibility of charging Leekin with murder is on the "back burner" as police continue the search, Vega said. Police have checked hospital records, search warrants and the local medical examiner's office, Vega said.

Graham's disappearance came to light within the past six months, as Florida police investigated child abuse charges against Leekin.

"Everything is coming back empty as far as Shane Graham being alive," he said.

Leekin has refused to speak to police, Vega said. "So far she has not cooperated at all in this investigation," he said.

Officials said Leekin, who lived in Laurelton, adopted the children from at least four New York adoption agencies between 1988 and 1996 and moved them to Florida in 1998. The children now range in age from 15 to 27.

Leekin used aliases, fake addresses and forged documents to receive $1.2 million from the New York City Administration for Children's Services, authorities have said.

Florida police said Leekin handcuffed, beat and starved the children, many of whom have physical and mental handicaps. If convicted, she faces up to 160 years in prison.

Nine of the adopted children are in Florida state custody and a 10th, now 19, lives on his own.

A public defender representing Leekin did not return calls for comment Thursday.

This story was supplemented with an Associated Press report.

NY woman pleads guilty in adoption scam of 11 kids

from: ap.google.com

By ADAM GOLDMAN

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman pleaded guilty to fraud Tuesday for using fake names to adopt 11 disabled children and rake in more than $1 million in subsidies, while she restrained the children and failed to send them to school.

Judith Leekin, 63, admitted that she used plastic ties to restrain the children and prevent them from getting out of bed, and that she sent officials phony school report cards to qualify for the adoption subsidies. She agreed to forfeit the $1.68 million in subsidies she collected over nearly two decades.

Leekin adopted the children in New York City between 1988 and 1996, then moved to Florida in 1998. She faces abuse charges there alleging she kept the children like prisoners in her home.

Leekin's attorney, Mark Harllee, said he was in plea negotiations with Florida authorities in that case.

She faces a potential prison term of up to eight years on the federal mail and wire fraud charges. She will be held in New York until the sentencing July 15 and then be returned to Florida to face those charges.

"We feel it's a reasonable outcome, given the circumstances," Harllee said after the federal court hearing Tuesday.

Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the City Department of Investigation, which probed the scheme along with the FBI, said Leekin preyed on vulnerable children. The agency committed a tremendous amount of resources to prosecuting Leekin, Hearn said.

"I did it because of the monstrous nature of this defendant's behavior and justice for these children," Hearn said.

Florida authorities accused Leekin in July 2007 of mistreating the children at her home in Port St. Lucie, about 100 miles north of Miami. They often were handcuffed, battered, deprived of food and medicine, and locked in a room, while closed-circuit monitors let Leekin keep watch over them, authorities said.

She never sent the children to school. The children, many afflicted by both physical and mental problems, told police Leekin would threaten to shoot them or cut off their heads if they spoke out.

The children are now ages 16 to 28. Nine are in foster or group homes, Harllee said. A 10th lives on his own in Florida.

Investigators also suspect that Leekin may have killed one of them, a boy named Shane Graham, and disposed of the body. Harllee declined to discuss that case.

For the money, not the children

It's bad enough natural parents will put money before the emotional and physical needs of their own children, but for an adult to enter the foster care system thinking it's going to be a home-run business, at the cost of so many children's futures... this is far from being a mere fiscal issue.

"She faces a potential prison term of up to eight years on the federal mail and wire fraud charges. She will be held in New York until the sentencing July 15 and then be returned to Florida to face those charges."

Where are the criminal charges against her and the agency she used for endangering the lives of 11 children - for YEARS -- using fictitious documents, in different states?  Does forgery and false presentation to CPS have any consequences, or is that all a given in this day and age of Child Protective Services. 

How much is the pain and suffering caused by LYING worth, and who will be paying the most for this standard of behavior?  I can garrrrrrunteee you, it won't be Leekin, or the agents who made this whole story possible.

The very worst part of this news is.... situations like this are not anything new at all, are they?  She is only one who got caught.  ONE, with 11 children.

Large families big on abuse

And she is not the only abusive adopter who adopted so many children. Within our abuse cases section we have four such cases:

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, the author of Thee Little Words, used to live with Charles and Marjorie Moss and writes about her experiences in her book.

Large abusive foster care families are even more wide-spread than large abusive adoptive families, though there is a fine line between what constitutes adoptive families and foster care families. All four of these adoptive families started out as foster care families and all adopted children came out of the foster care system. For all children state or federal money was paid, both while in foster care and while being adopted.

With so many children to take care of, I wonder if we are talking about families or about amateur run institutions.

When enough is supposedly not enough

In the mean time we've been able to identify several other large adoptive "families" or should I say home run child torture profit centers. Included are only families having adopted more than eight children.

A "Diablolic adoption scheme" gets an 11 year sentence

Posted yesterday, 15 July,  is a copy of the final verdict regarding Leekin's adoption-case:

Calling her actions "diabolical," a Manhattan federal judge Tuesday sentenced a Florida woman to almost 11 years in prison for using lies and aliases to adopt 11 disabled children -- some retarded or autistic -- whom authorities claim were cruelly mistreated.

Judith Leekin, 63, was also ordered to forfeit the $1.68 million in child care subsidies that she had collected since 1988 for taking in the children in New York and Florida.

Judge Richard Berman threw the book at the tearful Leekin, giving her a harsher sentence than the approximate eight year maximum that she had faced under her plea deal admitting only to fraud charges -- not the alleged abuse.

Berman called her adoption fraud "a diabolical scheme... because these children suffered from physical and mental disabilities." He said her behavior "turns the system on its head and into a heartless money-driven scheme."

Leekin had pleaded guilty in May to wire and mail fraud. Sobbing at her sentencing, she apologized saying "I'm sorry. I love my children and I miss them."

Advocates for the adopted children described alleged beatings and torture at Leekin's hands. She's accused of punishing kids by burning their hands on a stove, tying them up to the spokes of a crib to keep them from moving, and forcing them to sleep on a basement floor.

After detailing these alleged abuses, attorney Howard Talenfeld then dramatically asked the court "What happened to Mark Shane?" -- a disabled boy who authorities believe vanished from Leekin's Florida home several years ago.

Leekin still faces 10 counts of aggravated child abuse and other charges in Florida where authorities allege the children were underfed, tied up, hit and kept home from school. She has denied those charges.

Berman called for a series of adoption reforms and oversight, including mandatory fingerprint and alias checks of people who apply to be adoptive parents, intensive home visits and tougher certification. The judge quoted from an article which had claimed that "adoption had been easier than buying a used car."

A letter from the city's Department of Investigation pledged cooperation of that agency and the Administration for Children's Services to toughen adoption regulations.

Reacting to the sentencing, DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn pledged better oversight saying, "as a result of the Leekin investigation, DOI bore into the adoption process and found inadequacies. This case demonstrates, quite profoundly, that the process must be strengthened. DOI will continue its discussions with the City's Administration for Children's Services about how that can be accomplished."

http://www.wnbc.com/news/16885490/detail.html

A small update on a very big case

This was posted today:

— A Port St. Lucie woman accused of mistreating and neglecting 11 adopted children was arrested this week on another charge of aggravated child abuse, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.

Judith Leekin, 63, was arrested at the St. Lucie County Jail, where she’s been since July 18 after the conclusion of her criminal case in New York City.

In July, a federal judge sentenced Leekin to 130 months in prison for defrauding New York’s adoption system out of $1.68 million.

She was ordered to pay back the money and forfeit her interest in her homes in Port St. Lucie and Sanford.

Leekin’s arrest Tuesday raises her bond to $4.46 million, jail officials confirmed. However, she’s also being held on no bond out of New York.

Locally, she’s facing 11 felony charges related to allegations she beat her children, forced them to sleep on the floor, bound them with plastic ties and kept them away from school and medical care.

Circuit Judge Robert Belanger on Wednesday agreed to continue Leekin’s case until Jan. 8.

http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/nov/26/leekin-facing-new-charge-extensive-child-abuse-cas/

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