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Adoption terror

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


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.