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Foster mom could face murder rap

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Renee Johnson, 50, was charged...

By Courtney Dentch

A Springfield Gardens foster mother accused of dumping the body of a severely disabled 9-year-old who was in her care could face homicide and other charges from the Queens district attorney, a DA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Renee Johnson, 50, was charged with illegally disposing of a body in Manhattan last Thursday after she admitted to wrapping the remains of Stephanie Ramos in a garbage bag and dropping her in a pile of refuse on a Manhattan street, police said.

Stephanie, 9, was found in a plastic garbage bag in a Bronx waste transfer station June 8, police said.

But Queens DA Richard Brown is considering bringing charges against Johnson pending the results of the girl’s autopsy, a spokeswoman for Brown said. Johnson may also be charged with child endangerment for her treatment of Stephanie and two other children placed in her care, the spokeswoman said.

Stephanie, who suffered from cerebral palsy and could not walk, talk or see, was believed to have died at Johnson’s home at 146-39 220th St. in Springfield Gardens June 8, but how she died was still not known a week later, a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examiner said Tuesday.

The case first started on July 8 when Johnson carried Stephanie, wrapped in a blanket, into a livery cab with her two other foster children — a brother and sister — to visit the biological father of the other children, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The group traveled to the Variety/Cody Gifford House for Children with Special Needs on East 91st Street in Manhattan, where Johnson claimed to have dropped off the children, including Stephanie, before taking a walk, police said.

Johnson later told authorities she placed Stephanie’s body in a garbage bag and dropped it on the street with another pile of waste waiting to be collected, according to the complaint. When Johnson returned from her walk, she told workers that she had left Stephanie sitting on a couch, prompting a missing persons investigation, police said.

During the probe, Johnson later told detectives that she panicked when Stephanie died, and dumped her body to prevent authorities from learning about the child’s condition and poor health, the criminal complaint said.

Stephanie’s body was found at a waste transfer station in the Bronx on the morning of June 9, the complaint said.

Autopsy results will help law enforcement officials determine if Stephanie died naturally or if crimes occurred, a spokeswoman for the Queens DA said.

The 9-year-old girl, who was severely underdeveloped — weighing only 28 pounds and measuring 3 feet tall — had been in Johnson’s care for the past two years, said Elysia Carnevale, a spokeswoman for the Administration of Children’s Services.

Johnson, a retired nurse, has been a foster mother with the city for three years but may have cared for children under a private agency before that, said Carnevale.

At Johnson’s arraignment in State Supreme Court in Manhattan last Thursday, prosecutors accused the woman of letting her home fall into squalor, with human waste and garbage covering the floor.

ACS, which made regular visits to the home to check on the children in Johnson’s care, disputed that allegation, saying the house was in good condition at the last check in June and that ACS had no history of abuse or neglect investigation against Johnson on record, Carnevale said.

“A preliminary review of our records on this foster home shows no prior history of abuse or neglect, and nothing that would raise any red flags about unsatisfactory living conditions in the home environment,” an ACS statement read.

Johnson earned $3,800 a month caring for the three children, Carnevale said. The brother and sister who were in Johnson’s care were placed in other foster homes, she said.

Johnson’s neighbors said she was often seen outside the house playing with the children, or waiting to put them on a bus for day programs.

“She seemed like a very good mother,” said Shirley Griffith, who lives two houses down from Johnson. “She was always out there with the other parents waiting for the bus.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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