By Kelli Kennedy
MIAMI— Three private New York foster care agencies will pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit by eight people who were fraudulently adopted by a woman and claimed they were repeatedly abused, starved and imprisoned in a "house of horrors," attorneys said.
The lawsuit was filed in 2009 in Brooklyn federal court on behalf of the children whom Judith Leekin, 67, adopted over an eight-year period ending in 1996. Howard Talenfeld, one of the attorneys for the now grown children, said the settlement was approved Monday.
Authorities say Leekin deprived the children of medical care and school. The suit said Leekin fostered at least 22 children. One is missing and presumed dead.
The suit charged that Leekin was able to carry out a scam in which she fraudulently collected $1.68 million in adoption subsidies because the city's Administration for Children's Services didn't do its job. The city of New York City settled its share of the lawsuit in 2012 and agreed to pay $9.7 million. The city did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Leekin was sentenced in 2009 in Florida state court to 20 years in prison. She also was sentenced in New York to 11 years in federal prison for fraud.
Leekin, a high school dropout from Trinidad, lived in Florida with the children when the fraud finally was revealed in July 2007. She adopted the children in New York City and moved to Florida in 1998, continuing to outwit ACS officials with seemingly little effort, according to the lawsuit.
Many of the children are now adults and living in Florida.
The suit also contended that in 1988 a newborn was placed in Leekin's care and died less than a month later from supposed "crib death." The suit said ACS didn't conduct an "appropriated investigation" into the infant's death — one that would have revealed she had four other children, including three of the children named in the lawsuit.