By Grace Lavigne
A woman who used fake identities to adopt 11 disabled children – whom authorities say she kept locked in a room while she lived lavishly on money meant for their care – has been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman called 63-year-old Judith Leekin’s acts “diabolical in nature” and agreed with federal prosecutors that she had used the children as pawns in her scheme to defraud social service agencies in New York City and New York state, according to a report in The New York Times.
The judge ordered Leekin to pay $1.68 million in restitution, which is the amount she collected on the children’s behalf. Authorities said they were unclear how much of the money might be recovered.
Leekin began adopting the children in 1988, when she lived in New York City, and continued to receive government adoption subsidies after moving to Port St. Lucie, Fla., a decade later. Her scheme was discovered last year.
Authorities said she used four aliases, various addresses and fraudulent documents to adopt the children, and then collected about $55 a day for each of them.
Leekin faces separate state charges in Florida – including aggravated child abuse, aggravated abuse of a disabled person and witness tampering – stemming from her alleged treatment of the children while in that state.
None of the children, now ages 16 to 28, appeared in court, but lawyers documented their treatment in court papers. They suffer from a variety of severe mental and physical disabilities. Nine of the children are now in foster or group homes. Another lives on his own in Florida. One child is missing and presumed dead, according to The Associated Press.
Berman said he wondered whether any steps could have been taken to uncover the scheme earlier or even prevent it. The judge recommended that adoption agencies require fingerprinting of prospective parents and conduct wider investigations of their backgrounds before children are placed. He also suggested surprise visits to adoptive parents and active monitoring by government agencies.
The commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, John B. Mattingly, noted that the agency began fingerprinting adults who adopt children out of foster care in 1999 – after Leekin’s adoptions were processed, according to CNN.