Los Angeles Probe Links Pornography To Abuse Case Involving Preschoolers
Los Angeles law-enforcement officials investigating a bizarre child-abuse case involving the staff of a private preschool said last week that four of the seven people who have been indicted in the case may have paid their bail with money obtained from selling films and photographs of molestations of children attending the school.
In indictments handed down by a Los Angeles County grand jury last month, seven employees of the Virginia McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, including its 76-year-old founder, were charged on 115 counts of raping, sodomizing, and otherwise sexually abusing 18 children over the last 10 years. The victims were between the ages of 2 and 5 at the time of the assaults, and range in age from 2 to 13 now, according to law-enforcement officials.
The suspects were also charged with slaughtering small animals in front of the children and warning them that if they told anyone about the abuse, their parents would be killed in the same manner.
The Los Angeles District Attorney's office has asked the judge who indicted the seven employees of the school to examine the suspects' source of bail money.
"Quite possibly, [films and still pictures] were sold commercially as child pornography," said Al Albergate, public-information officer in the district attorney's office. "It could have been quite extensive,4with as many as 125 children involved" in the films.
Officials in the district attorney's office declined to comment last week on news reports that the children also may have been involved in a prostitution ring.
Three of the suspects remain in jail, with bail set as high as $1 million, Mr. Albergate said.
District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian said at a press conference following the indictments that his office was interviewing students and their parents to determine how many more children may have been victimized.
Meanwhile, parents of some children who had attended the school contended in a statement that a number of preschools in California are shut down annually, many for reasons similar to those in the Manhattan Beach case.
Charged in the case were Virginia McMartin, the school's founder; her daughter, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 57; her grandson, Raymond Buckey, 25; her granddaughter, Peggy Ann Buckey, 28; Mary Ann Jackson, 57; Betty Raidor, 64; and Babette Spitler, 36. All are scheduled to be arraigned this Friday, according to Mr. Albergate.
Mr. Buckey, who has been indicted on 75 counts, was arrested last September on suspicion of child molestation after the mother of a 2-year-old pupil told local police the teacher had molested her child. For8mal charges were never filed because the evidence was insufficient, but local police and the district attorney's office continued to investigate the school and to interview students and their families, according to Mr. Albergate.
On March 6, the local police and members of the district attorney's office, armed with a search warrant, seized student records, photographs, and weapons from the school, according to Mr. Albergate. No other details of the raid were released.
Following the indictments, a group of parents whose children attended the school called for increased regulation of preschools. "The California State Department of Social Services, which licenses child-care facilities, is now revoking as many as 200 to 300 licenses a year," the parents said in the statement. "The majority are due to cases of sexual molestation, and this percentage appears to be on the rise. ... This case is another example of how social agencies, as well as law enforcement, have not kept pace with a society where the two-income family has become the rule, not the exception."
The school had operated for almost 30 years before it closed voluntarily in January when parents began withdrawing their children. The California Department of Social Services suspended the school's license on Feb. 9; a hearing on the revocation is scheduled for June 25.