Judge: Case of missing girl 'absolutely despicable'
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The family court judge who has presided over the case of little Rilya Wilson since she became a ward of Florida was visibly agitated Monday morning at a status hearing for the 5-year-old who was missing for more than a year before the state realized she was gone.
"It is absolutely despicable what happened in this case," Miami-Dade District Court Judge Cindy Lederman said at a hearing she convened. She singled out the former caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, with pointed criticism.
"Aside from everything else, she misrepresented this child's well-being to this court," Lederman said.
The judge listed the number of times Rilya's case had come before her, starting back in late 1999, including at least six times in 2001.
On August 31 last year, the judge noted, the child's caseworker filed a "Judicial Review Social Studies Report" with the court. Lederman said the document stated "the children (referring to Rilya and her sister) are being supported in a family-like setting."
When the Muskelly filed that report, said Lederman, she didn't even know where the 5-year-old was. The caseworker, she said, "defrauded the court."
In Monday's hearing, Lederman also took aim at Florida's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for removing Rilya's 3-year-old sister Rodericka last week from her grandmother's home without seeking the court's permission. The judge said she learned about Rodericka through accounts in the news media.
"I can't tell you how inappropriate that is," she said.
Attorneys for DCFS maintained it was within the state's purview to remove Rodericka if it felt her welfare in question. The judge was not mollified.
"I have been kept in the dark ... for a year," she said " Why would you think I would allow the removal of this child (Rodericka) without my knowledge? What is the department hiding?"
Caseworker demoted, allowed to quit
Rilya's former caseworker, Muskelly, was on the verge of being charged with "conduct unbecoming a public employee" shortly before she was allowed to hand in her resignation, according to documents obtained by CNN.
According to DCFS records, Muskelly was demoted twice in five months in 1995. A district manager wrote the first demotion was a result of her "failure to maintain a satisfactory level of performance."
Muskelly's supervisor, Willie Harris, was criticized in a 2000 performance evaluation for his "laissez -faire" style that allowed staff "to do as they please." Two years earlier, he had been told to improve his "ability to hold people accountable."
The head of the state agency assigned to supervise Rilya Wilson wrote to Muskelly, saying she had lied in reports about visiting the homes of children assigned to her and supplied false details about the way in which the children were being cared for.
The reports included Muskelly's "positive impressions of the home, condition of the children and (her) assessment of services needed by them at the time of your visit," Charles Auslander, DCFS's district administrator, wrote March 20.
Auslander also accused Muskelly of obtaining the signature of parents on blank forms she later filled out.
The same day, the agency's labor relations manager accepted Muskelly's resignation "in lieu of dismissing you for conduct unbecoming a public employee, for falsification of departmental records, and false statements during a disciplinary investigation."
DCFS revealed it had lost track of Rilya, who had been placed in her grandmother's custody in late 1999 after her parents' rights were terminated.
Rilya's mother, Gloria Wilson, lost custody of her daughter because of a drug problem.
Agency records indicate the child's welfare was checked monthly until January 2001, but neither Muskelly nor her supervisor had any record of meetings after that date.
Rilya's absence came to light April 25 when a DCFS caseworker contacted the grandmother to set up an appointment to check on Rilya. The grandmother told the caseworker that she had turned the child over to people she believed to be caseworkers in January 2001 and had not seen Rilya since.
The grandmother said she repeatedly called the state to check on the child. Friday, Miami-Dade police collected the grandmother's phone records and administered a polygraph to verify those claims.
While Rilya's case is still officially a missing persons case, police cited a "strong possibility" Friday that it could become a homicide investigation.
Tests were being conducted on the headless remains of a girl found a year ago in Missouri to determine whether it was Rilya. An initial comparison of palm prints did not match, but authorities were investigating further.
"We really, desperately hope Rilya's still alive," said Cmdr. Linda O'Brien. "We simply don't know at this minute."
-- CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti and Producer Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.
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