This Week in Allegedly: NXIVM and Heists

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The election is happening in a few days. Go vote! Whether you’ve already voted, are standing in line to cast your ballot, or waiting until Nov. 3, you probably need a break from political news. This week’s Allegedly gives you exactly that! We’ve got stories on NXIVM leader Keith Raniere’s fate and cargo heists at JFK for The Allegedly List. In The Allegedly Original, Trevor Boyer spoke with a woman whose lengthy battle with Administration for Children's Services took a weird turn when media reports revealed that her baby’s onetime foster mom had a criminal past.

The Allegedly List

  • NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere was sentenced Tuesday to 120 years in federal prison. Victims who provided statements in Brooklyn federal court described him as a manipulative sicko, with India Oxenberg saying: “I will be a victim of Keith Raniere for the rest of my life…you’re a sexual predator and you raped me.” Raniere said he didn’t think he was guilty of any crimes, but apologized for causing pain. Via Vulture

  • Francisco Garcia, the cop who put his knee against a bystander’s neck while performing a social distancing arrest, quit rather than go through a departmental trial. The May 2 incident in the East Village, which was recorded on video, spurred widespread condemnation. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is investigating Garcia. Via New York Daily News

  • Five purported Chinese agents were busted in the U.S. on Wednesday for an alleged harassment campaign carried out for China’s government, Brooklyn federal prosecutors said. The alleged victim, a onetime Chinese official accused of pocketing bribes back home, received menacing messages and was stalked from 2016 to 2019. The five men were allegedly trying to get their target to go back to China, where he would face time behind bars. Via New York Daily News

  • Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Wednesday that the Afghan national who kidnapped a New York Times reporter, and two other people, was arrested. Purported Taliban commander Haji Najibullah kidnapped David Rohde, an Afghan journalist, and the person driving them, at gunpoint in 2008. The two journalists escaped after more than seven months. Via New York Daily News

  • David Correia—an associate of the Ukraine-born businessman who assisted Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, search for damaging info on Joe Biden—pleaded guilty Thursday to scamming investors. Correia admitted that he scammed them into thinking his insurance company, Fraud Guarantee, was a legit business. The company, which paid Giuliani $500,000 for consulting work, provided “no insurance product whatsoever,” Manhattan federal prosecutors said. Via Washington Post

  • The first criminal trial since the coronavirus pandemic started this week in Manhattan Supreme Court. The judge, court reporter, prosecutor, and witness box were protected “on three sides by transparent plastic,” and the defense lawyer and his client were separated with a partition.” Jurors were seated in the gallery, socially distanced from one another. Via New York Post

  • Manhattan federal Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Justice Department can’t defend Trump in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case. Kaplan said that Trump’s comments “concerned media reports about an alleged sexual assault that took place more than twenty years before he took office...neither the media reports nor the underlying allegations have any relationship to his official duties,” Kaplan also said of Trump, whom Carroll accused of rape. Via New York Post

  • Six people were indicted for their alleged role in cargo heists at JFK airport, Queens prosecutors said Thursday. The accused thieves allegedly hauled two tractor trailers packed with $6 million in designer merch—such as Chanel handbags, Gucci accessories, and Prada pret-a-porter items. The two alleged ringleaders were truckers had previously worked at the airport and used their “insider knowledge” to nab air cargo. Via Queens District Attorney’s Office

The Allegedly Original

She Lost Custody of Her Baby. Then The Baby’s Foster-Mom Was Arrested in a Hit-and-Run

By Trevor Boyer

In New York City, the Administration for Children’s Services has repeatedly come under fire, both for its handling of minors and their parents. Children have sued ACS for keeping them in foster care for excessive amounts of time—and alleged that mistreatment rates are among the highest in the U.S.

ACS workers have been accused of repeatedly ignoring warning signs that children were abused. A 2018 report from the city’s Department of Investigation found that most of ACS’s service providers were falling well short of federal guidelines.

Parents have also accused ACS of wrongly coming after them, either with the threat of investigation or loss of custody. This includes parents with intellectual disabilities, and parents who lost a child due to apparent crib death, among others. Sometimes, other child custodians dangle the threat of ACS in front of economically disadvantaged parents. For example, parents have been accused of “virtual absences” when their children fail to attend online classes during the pandemic, despite this often arising from malfunctioning electronics provided by the city—or spotty internet access in homeless shelters.

Allegedly interviewed Ashley Tucker, whose son Achilles was taken from her just five days after his birth—while he was still in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Achilles was placed in the home of Julia Litmanovich and, during his time there, repeatedly showed signs of neglect, Tucker claimed. Litmanovich was arrested in a hit-and-run in spring 2019. Shortly thereafter, Tucker learned of Litmanovich’s criminal past.

Tucker’s ordeal with Achilles began almost three years ago, on Feb. 28, 2018, because of unrelated child custody issues in Arizona, she said. Tucker said that when she lived in Arizona, child welfare authorities took her four daughters based on “the lies of landlords and a family member.”

Her first two daughters ended up in a foster placement with the landlord couple from whom she was renting a room at the time. They were looking after her two girls while Tucker worked, and three times called the state’s child welfare agency before eventually filing a dependency claim in court.

The state agency removed Tucker’s daughters in April 2012 while she was pregnant with a third girl. She got them back on a trial basis later that year but 11 days before the case was set to be closed, Tucker said, the state took them again.

Tucker gave her mother guardianship over her third daughter, who born that June, as a newborn but retained custody. Tucker feared the state would also take custody of her.

In 2014, while she was pregnant a fourth time, Tucker had a kidney failure. Doctors prescribed powerful medications for her pain, including oxycodone. Because she had open cases with child protection authorities, Tucker reported these medications to the agency. Right after she delivered, the state agency took custody of her fourth daughter as she tested positive for opioids. She underwent another surgery during her next pregnancy in 2015 as well, with the same result—opioids prescribed, a positive test at birth, a daughter removed from her custody.

In late 2017, Tucker moved to New York City so her partner could take a job and she could care for his family. In February 2018, Achilles was born five weeks premature.

She maintained that the New York City Administration for Children's Services took custody of Achilles based on these previous cases in Arizona—not because of any new allegations. An ACS lawyer said in court that Arizona authorities contacted the New York agency. Tucker said she still doesn’t how Arizona authorities knew she was pregnant, let alone delivering her first son. (Arizona’s Department of Child Safety declined to say anything about Tucker’s case, writing in an email: “We cannot comment due to confidentiality laws.”)

“My cases [in Arizona] were closed for months, almost a full year before he was born,” she said. “All they would have had to do was order a hair-follicle test, and I could have squashed any fears or anything like that.”

Tucker said she spent as much time with Achilles as permitted by judges in the following months. Litmanovich was Achilles’s foster mom during most of his time away from home.

Tucker said she came to know Litmanovich as a foster placement who didn’t know how to secure little Achilles in his carseat. She said that Litmanovich rescheduled his doctor’s appointments without notifying Tucker or ACS—as required. “My son was coming [to visits] with moldy bottles. He had bruises on him,” Tucker alleged.

Tucker said she documented everything she could and did everything that the court and caseworkers required. The caseworkers were contracted by Children’s Aid, according to Tucker and documents reviewed by Allegedly. Tucker said she passed every drug test, every psych evaluation, and made every appointment and court date.

Tucker believed that if she slipped just once, she wouldn’t get Achilles back. “I had to be above reproach. I had to be on top of everyone, including my lawyers, to make sure that nobody could question me,” she said.

Meanwhile, caseworkers told Litmanovich that she was on track to adopt Achilles, Tucker said.

In late March 2019, Julia’s behavior was becoming even more erratic, Tucker said. In an email she sent her lawyers on March 28 of last year, Tucker wrote: “Can we have someone do a wellness check on Achilles, no one can get ahold of Julia and I think someone might have told her that he’s coming home. And I’m worried she might hurt him or run with him.”

After Julia missed a doctor’s appointment and a court date, it wasn’t easy for Tucker to get Children’s Aid to check on Achilles, she claimed. “I begged and I pleaded and I low-key threatened after that: If you don’t go check on my son, I’m gonna go call the cops to do a welfare check.”

Finally, Tucker said, a Children’s Aid supervisor started seeing her as a human being. The supervisor went to Litmanovich’s apartment. Achilles was safe in his crib—but Litmanovich, it was later learned, hadn’t taken the baby to daycare for two weeks.

Tucker learned on March 29 2019 that Achilles was sleeping at a Staten Island Children’s Aid facility that hosts visits.

Just over a week later, Litmanovich’s alleged incident hit the news. The NYPD had released video that appeared to show Litmanovich running a red light and hitting a girl on March 27 2019, sending her flying through the air, authorities said. They put out Litmanovich’s mugshot. Later, the Daily News took video of Litmanovich being walked out of her apartment in handcuffs.

Litmanovich’s arrest came to Tucker’s attention at 3 a.m one morning when she was scrolling through her Google newsfeed. Tucker could not pinpoint what she saw first, but cried after seeing Litmanovich was arrested. “I was scared. This whole time I was telling them, ‘This lady is erratic,’” Tucker said. “It was clicking that I was right this whole time, and they think I’m crazy.”

News accounts reported that Litmanovich had been arrested over 30 times before, and did a year of probation after pleading guilty in a 2008 hit-and-run. Court records also indicate that she pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution in relation to a 1996 homicide.

“I’m just seeing this shit, and it was devastating, because my son was with her,” Tucker said. “It was all piling on. I was crying and puking in succession.”

In total, Achilles was with Litmanovich for over a year.

Litmanovich’s childhood friend Kimberley Perricone, who stayed in touch with her until she was arrested, said in a phone interview that her friend had recovered from a drug addiction and became a drug and alcohol counselor herself. Litmanovich also did home therapy for special-needs children. A lawyer who represented Litmanovich at her arraignment for the hit-and-run charge said the same in court. This attorney could not be reached for comment.

Less than a month after her arrest, Litmanovich was dead. After her arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court, she was hospitalized at Staten Island University Hospital North Campus. Friends said she died from complications of a brain tumor on May 5, 2019.

Meanwhile, Achilles bounced around the system. After being in the Staten Island facility, he was moved to a new placement in Queens, which had pets that Achilles is allergic to. He bounced from there to two more unsuitable homes in just two weeks. Finally, Achilles was placed in a caring foster placement that focused specifically on children with high medical needs, Tucker claimed. He wound up staying there for the rest of his time away from Tucker.

Tucker’s efforts to regain custody were progressing. Tucker’s case had the rare fortune of being picked up by the NYU Law School’s Family Defense Clinic, which joins as co-counsel on a handful of cases out of the thousands that public defenders handle each year. (Brooklyn Defender Services represented Tucker from day one until her case’s ultimate dismissal.)

The judge started enforcing the four hours Tucker was supposed to have to visit Achilles, and she started getting three visits a week instead of just two. Now Tucker actually got to spend time and do kangaroo care with Achilles — that’s skin-to-skin contact designed especially for premature babies — instead of just bringing milk to him.

In October 2019, Tucker started getting overnight visits. And starting this February, she had Achilles fulltime in what’s called a trial discharge. But the case was still open, and Tucker had to make court dates. So she was still careful. “I was videoing [Achilles] and taking pictures and documenting every day just in case they tried anything funny,” she said.

On July 1 2020, the day Tucker’s case was set to be dismissed, there was no dramatic courthouse scene, due to COVID. Instead, Tucker was at home, staring at her phone, waiting for her Brooklyn Defenders lawyer to send along the dismissal order.

“I cried when I saw the document saying the case was dismissed,” she said.

There it was in black and white, with the digital signature of the Honorable Melody Glover: Achilles officially was back in Tucker’s custody, with no supervision.

Achilles was very angry and confrontational when Tucker first got him back, she said. But he changed, day by day.

“My therapist said, you know what changed? You. You’re what’s different. I said, yeah, that’s true.”

“I know I’m raising a compassionate human being,” Tucker said. “I cut myself cooking, and Achilles said, ‘Mommy hurt, you OK?’ He had barely turned two. He told me to sit, and he ran and got cream and a Band-aid for me. He knew to do that. He’s just such a loving kid for having been through what he had to go through.”

Now, Tucker and her partner continue fighting to bring Achilles’ sisters home. Since regaining custody of Achilles, they’ve already succeeded in bringing their third daughter back from Arizona, the girl who had been in the care of Tucker’s mother.

Tucker said that while her situation had a happy ending, it could have gone a completely different way. She said she lives with the fear that ACS might take Achilles again.

“My counselor says I shouldn’t have to live in fear. But it is what it is. I’m always going to have that fear.”

Children’s Aid did not respond to a request for comment. When asked for comment, ACS said in an email: “Protecting children’s safety while in foster care is a top priority for ACS and that’s why Commissioner [David] Hansell has been focused on improving all aspects of foster care in New York City. In addition to reducing the number of children in foster care to an all-time low, we’ve launched new programs to enhance safety, invested in a campaign to increase the recruitment of quality foster parents and increased the proportion of children in foster care living with family and family friends.”

“We will continue to do thorough reviews of our foster care provider programs, and implement new strategies to improve safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for New York City children.”

They said state law barred them from talking about specific cases.

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