From the Associated Press
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 gency 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.