Abuse charges were filed Wednesday against a woman accused of fraudulently adopting and mistreating 11 New York children in order to bilk a child welfare agency out of $2 million.
Judith Leekin, 62, could face up to 160 years in prison if convicted on all 10 counts stemming from her alleged abuse of the children, including handcuffing them and holding them captive at her Port St. Lucie home, said prosecutor Ajay Whittemore.
She was charged Wednesday with aggravated child abuse, aggravated abuse of the elderly or a disabled person, witness tampering and possession of a fictitious driver license.
Whittemore said more charges were likely.
“It’s definitely an evolving case. More evidence is coming in on a daily basis,” Whittemore said. “We’ve just scratched the surface on this.”
Leekin was jailed on more than $4 million bail. Her attorney, Mario Garcia, has said she would plead not guilty and denies the allegations.
Police: Kids scarred from handcuffs
Investigators believe Leekin adopted 11 children from four separate New York City agencies using various aliases from 1993 to 1996.
Port St. Lucie police say she held the children like prisoners in her home, often handcuffing them together and not allowing them to use a bathroom. The children, who now range in age from 15 to 27, told police they were never allowed to attend school, see a doctor or a dentist and were barely fed.
All the victims had scars on their wrists from being handcuffed, police said.
Nine were in Florida state care. Some of the adults suffered serious handicaps. One is blind and mumbles. Another can barely walk or stand. None appeared to have more than a fourth-grade education, police said.
People who adopt special needs children in New York City can get as much as $55 a day until the child turns 21. Authorities say Leekin used various aliases, addresses and fraudulent documents to receive up to $2 million in subsidy payments from the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.
The commissioner of the New York agency, John Mattingly, called the allegations “abhorrent” and said his office was working to determine how Leekin came to gain custody.
He noted that the agency only began fingerprinting adults who adopted children out of foster care in 1999 — after Leekin’s adoptions were processed.
Authorities located a 19-year-old homeless man Monday who they say was among Leekin’s adopted children but left the home two years ago. Leekin continued to receive subsidy payments for him, police said. They were still searching for an 18 year old whom Leekin adopted.