Children’s Services Assists With Investigation of a Florida Woman Charged With Adoption Fraud and Child Abuse
A woman arrested on child abuse and adoption fraud charges in Port St. Lucie, Florida is believed to have adopted 11 children from New York City’s foster care system between 1993 and 1996, the Administration for Children’s Services learned earlier this month. The woman, Judith Leekin, 62, formerly of Laurelton, Queens, allegedly had multiple aliases and fraudulently failed to disclose that she had adopted other children when she applied repeatedly to become an adoptive parent. ACS is cooperating fully with the ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of aggravated child abuse, false imprisonment, and exploitation involving nine youths and young adults found in Florida.
The children now range in age from 15 to 27 and were adopted from at least four different adoption agencies in New York City, mostly between 1993 and 1996. Five teenagers and four developmentally-disabled adults were found in Ms. Leekin’s care at the time of her arrest in Florida, malnourished and poorly treated. The whereabouts of one 18-year-old man has not been determined at this point. The investigation began after the Port St. Lucie Police Department discovered an 18-year-old woman abandoned at a supermarket parking lot in St. Petersburg, Florida on July 4, 2007.
Ms. Leekin was arrested on July 18, 2007. She is being charged with five counts of aggravated child abuse, false identification and witness tampering, as well as four counts of aggravated abuse of an elderly or disabled adult. She is being held on $4.5 million bail at the St. Lucie County Jail in Florida.
“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. “As the child welfare system from which these children were adopted, we are very concerned about their safety, health and well-being. We are working with law enforcement to provide them with all available records to aid in the investigation. We are also doing everything possible to see how this individual was apparently able to adopt children using multiple false identities, as well as failing to disclose that she had previously adopted other children from New York City at the time she applied to become an adoptive parent. This may have happened 10-15 years ago, but we now have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Commissioner Mattingly said ACS immediately suspended adoption subsidies that were being paid to several aliases associated to Ms. Leekin. “We are thoroughly searching all our adoption records as well as all available records from adoption agencies to see if we can detect any other fraudulent cases involving adoptive parents. We are acting as quickly as possible to learn what safeguards we can legally put into place that would detect and prevent fraud like this from recurring.”
The fingerprinting of adoptive parents went into effect in 1999 in New York State. Since February 1999, under New York State Law, all foster and adoptive parents are mandated to be fingerprinted and screened for prior criminal history by the FBI. Current procedures in place for adoptions from New York City’s foster care system include the following:
- A home study by the foster care agency handling the adoption;
- Fingerprints, which are sent to the FBI to screen nationally for prior criminal history;
- Interview with prospective parent(s);
- References from 3 – 4 individuals who provide written support and may be interviewed;
- Clearance through the New York State Central Registry for abuse and neglect. As of 2006, foster care agencies are also required to ask if the prospective foster or adoptive parent has lived in any other state in the past 5 years. If the answer is yes, clearances are conducted in those states’ registries as well;
- Child care back-up plans;
- Investigation into how other children in the household are doing in school;
- Medical physical exams for the adoptive/foster parent;
- Training for foster and adoptive parents
In addition to immediately suspending payments on all adoption subsidies involved in this case, ACS has requested court orders to unseal and release the closed adoption case files from the foster care agencies which handled these adoptions, as well as legal records from Queens and Nassau Surrogate Family Courts. As of July 2007, ACS had been sending subsidy checks to Ms. Leekin under several different names, different addresses and at various banking accounts (all payments have been suspended.)
Adults who adopt children from the foster care system in New York State receive a subsidy from the date of adoption until the child turns 21. The rate depends on the child’s level of need. ACS’s policy, following state law, is that adoptive parents must send ACS proof annually that the adoptive child remains in the parent’s care and is still living in their home. This proof can be a report card, proof of a medical exam, etc.
Port St. Lucie police also provided the names of the youth and adults found in Judith Leekin’s home. After a review of the adoption subsidy case files, Children’s Services was able to cross-reference the adopted children’s names and determine their previous foster care status. The investigation is continuing. ACS and the Port St. Lucie Police Department are working together to obtain information on the adoption cases. The teenagers and special needs adults are in the custody and temporary care of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which also is evaluating them.
The New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) is participating in the investigation. Anyone who may have information about the case is asked to call DOI Deputy Commissioner Kim A. Berger at (212)825-5979.