OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma judge and her husband have turned themselves in to authorities after facing more than 30 felony counts of perjury and fraudulent claims.
Oklahoma District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure and her husband Karlos Antonio LeSure Sr. face four counts of perjury and 32 counts of fraudulent claims for allegedly accepting false claims of foster care reimbursements from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
The Oklahoma County District Attorney filed charges against the two Friday.
Karlos LeSure and his attorney were the first to arrive at the Oklahoma County jail just before 10 a.m. Monday. Minutes later, Tammy Bass-LeSure arrived with her attorney to also turn herself in.
According to the charges filed "Tammy Bass-LeSure knowingly, willfully and feloniously made fraudulent claims for public funds in the form of foster care reimbursement payments against the state of Oklahoma."
According to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case, the LeSures applied in January 2008 to become foster-care providers for the children and to receive payments from the state. The couple adopted the siblings after the children's biological parents terminated their parental rights, the affidavit said.
The District Attorney said the LeSures accepted more than $19,000 to take care of two twin foster children that were supposed to live with Judge Bass-LeSure and her husband, but who court records state actually lived with her bailiff's sister, Ravonda Edwards.
"We are cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation. We will have to wait and see what actually comes out of this investigation to see whether the charges against Judge LeSure are founded or not, and we'll have to see what information comes from that if there needs to be any changes made to our processes," said Sheree Powell, DHS spokesperson.
The twins are now in state custody, but payments will continue to be sent to the LeSures because the LeSures are still legally and financially responsible for the them. By law DHS cannot suspend payments, even though the judge and her husband are being investigated for fraud and perjury.
Judge Bass-LeSure's attorney said the judge maintains her innocence.
"Strong, courageous, compassionate woman; strong, courageous compassionate judge," said LeSure's attorney "This matter is going to be decided in a courtroom and she maintains 100 percent she's innocent of the charges."
The couple was arraigned and both pleaded not guilty on all counts. They were both released on their own recognizance.
A preliminary hearing conference has been set for March 31 at 9 a.m.
Kapri Whitehead is the birthmother of the twins. She said she wanted to keep her son and daughter but felt constantly pressured to give them up.
"She took me through the ringer. She took me through all this mess. All this type of stuff from my past resurfaced, and I didn't even know nothing about it, and I know that was her doing. I know that was her making me look bad in court," Whitehead said.
Meanwhile Edwards is facing several criminal charges.
Edwards faces a first-degree arson charge stemming from a incident at a former partner's home on June 4, according to court documents.
Court documents also show Edwards is being charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, kidnapping and a charge of causing malicious injury. She was also charged with a first-degree burglary charge in July.
Almost all the criminal charges against Edwards occurred during the same time prosecutors said she was caring for the twin babies thought to be living with Judge LeSure.
DHS confirmed Edwards was a caseworker from June of 2005 to January of 2010. DHS officials said policy would have prohibited her from being an alternative caregiver for the LeSures only if she was the caseworker assigned to that case.
Santiago calls for stricter rules on foster care
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago called on Monday for stricter rules in foster care to protect foster children from abuse or negligence.
Senate Bill No. 2486, also known as the Foster Care Act, is currently being debated upon in the Senate plenary. It was authored by Senators Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Manny Villar, Pia Cayetano, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, and Franklin Drilon.
Santiago takes exception in the definition of “family” in the bill. Under SB No. 2486, the family refers to “the Parents and relatives of the Child within the fourth (4th) degree of consanguinity or affinity, including, but not limited to, the Child’s ascendants, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters.”
According to the senator, the above definition runs counter to the definition of “family” under the Family Code.
“In any law that concerns the family, the definition of ‘family’ in the Family Code should always be followed,” she said. “Hence, pursuant to the Code, ‘family’ only refers to the parents, ascendants, and brothers and sisters, whether of full or half-blood, of the child. Any person not falling within this classification should get a license to foster the child.”
Santiago said the State should exhaust all means to find a home for the child with his/her family members, whether that home is a permanent one through adoption or temporary one through foster care. If placement within the child’s extended family is not possible, only then should the child placed for adoption or even foster care by non-relatives.
Santiago added that the bill should ensure that the prospective foster parent is fit to take care of a child.
“It is not enough that a foster parent should be of legal age and at least sixteen years older that the child to be placed in foster care. The parent should be more mature than the child and can credibly carry out the responsibilities of a parent and demand obedience of the child,” Santiago said.
The senator suggested that the bill should provide for a section on the Rights and Duties of Foster Parents. Further, foster parents should not be allowed to use corporal punishment to discipline their foster children.
“We should make sure that foster parents are able to provide the child under their care the love, understanding, and security as if they are of their own flesh and blood,” Santiago said.
The bill provides for a monthly subsidy given by the government to a foster parent to cover the foster child’s basic needs. In this light, Santiago wants the bill to put a limitation to the number of children a foster parent may foster.
“This limitation ensures that the principal motivation for an individual to become a foster parent is not to earn a living but to give a home to a child. Further, given that parents, including foster parents, have a myriad of responsibilities, they ought not to be distracted by too many obligations,” Santiago said.