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Ex-Laurelton resident admits defrauding ACS of $1.7M for adopted kids

A former Laurelton woman faces up to eight years in a federal prison for bilking the city's Administration of Children's Services out of nearly $1.7 million in subsidies for 11 adopted children whom she may have abused, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Judith Leekin, 63, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Manhattan federal court to using several aliases to bypass ACS guidelines on the minimum number of children an adult can adopt so that she could take the money for herself, the AP reported. Leekin was arrested in July at her home in Port St. Lucie, Fla. after police discovered that she had allegedly abused her adopted children, who originally lived in Laurelton, tied their hands with plastic ties and never let them go to school, Florida police said.

She was ordered by the judge to be placed in a New York jail until her July 15 sentencing where she could sent to prison on up to eight years on the federal mail and wire fraud charges, according to the AP.

She is expected to be incarcerated for more than an eight-year term since her attorney Mark Harllee said he was working with Florida prosecutors on a plea deal for charges stemming from allegedly abusing the children.

"We feel it's a reasonable outcome, given the circumstances," Harllee told the AP.

During her court appearance Tuesday, Leekin did not admit to abusing the children, according to the AP.

Leekin moved to a large Port St. Lucie home with her children in 1997 and allegedly treated the youngsters like prisoners, going as far as threatening to cut off their heads if they ever escaped or talked to adults, Florida police said. She was receiving up to $180,000 a year in government subsidies for the care of the children, who range from age 16 to 28 and were all adopted in New York between 1988 and 1996, according to ACS.

Police discovered the abuse last summer when they found Leekin's 18-year-old adoptive daughter abandoned at a parking lot in St. Petersburg, Fla. The woman told police that she lived with Leekin for 13 years and that her mother left her in the lot after telling her she was going to an amusement park, Florida police said.

The authorities eventually tracked down Leekin and found the malnourished children and adults huddled together inside the house, which had security cameras to watch for police.

"The kids were extremely underweight, they never left the home, and they were never schooled. She had been doing this to them for years," Port. St. Lucie Police Officer Robert Vega told the TimesLedger in July.

Police said all of the 11 children and adults, some of whom are severally mentally handicapped, were moved into foster homes and assisted living-facilities.

Leekin was charged with several counts, including aggravated child abuse and aggravated abuse against an elderly or an adult, the Florida police said. Other criminal charges, possibly including murder, are pending amid suspicions that she may have killed one of her children in 2000 and abandoned his body, according to Florida police.

Despite an exhaustive six month search the police were not able to find the boy, who was reported to be 18 years old.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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