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A New York agency is trying to find out how she got up to $2-million and custody of 11.
Published Aug. 2, 2007

A Florida woman accused of fraudulently adopting 11 New York children to bilk a child welfare agency out of $2-million was charged Wednesday with child and adult abuse and other crimes.

Judith Leekin, 62, of Port St. Lucie could get 190 years in prison if convicted on all 10 counts stemming from her alleged abuse of the children, including handcuffing them and holding them captive inside her home, said prosecutor Ajay Whittemore.

He 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."

Now Leekin faces four counts of aggravated child abuse, four counts of aggravated abuse of her adult children, witness tampering and possession of a fictitious driver's license, Whittemore said. All the charges are felonies.

Leekin remained jailed Wednesday on more than $4-million bail.

Her attorney, Mario Garcia, has said she would plead not guilty and denies the allegations.

Investigators believe Leekin adopted 11 children from four separate New York City agencies using various aliases between 1993 and 1996.

Port St. Lucie police allege she held the children like prisoners in her Florida home, often handcuffing them together and forcing them to soil themselves because they weren't allowed to use the bathroom. Her 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.

John B. Mattingly, commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children's Services, said his agency was working to determine how Leekin came to gain custody.

Authorities say Leekin used various aliases, addresses and fraudulent documents to receive up to $2-million in subsidy payments from the New York agency.

Parents who adopt special-needs children in New York City can get as much as $55 a day until the child turns 21.

Nine of the victims 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.

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.

Police were still searching for an 18-year-old whom Leekin also adopted.