The go-go dancer who's being sought in the Newark child-abuse case refused to return the youngsters to their mother because she wanted the welfare money, relatives charged yesterday.

"She was getting money to take care of the kids," Lynella Gaddie said of Sherry Murphy, the exotic dancer entrusted with taking care of three boys by their mother, Melinda Williams.

Gaddie said she didn't know how much money was involved, but a state official said welfare payments for three children would total $424 a month. Add in an additional stipend to cover expenses, and Murphy could have gotten $488 monthly.

"She was getting government money, and all she had to do was take care of the kids," said Gaddie, a cousin of both Williams and Murphy.

Apparently, Murphy didn't. Two of Williams' sons - Raheem, 7, and Tyrone, 4 - were found starved, lice-ridden and dehydrated on Saturday in a Newark basement, where they wallowed in their own vomit and used a jar as a toilet.

The mummified remains of Raheem's twin, Faheem, were found Sunday in a purple plastic bin, where it had been stashed for months, police said.

Murphy, 41, began taking care of the three boys last March when Williams, 26, was hauled off to jail on a 5-year-old child-abuse conviction.

The two women had been living together in Irvington.

"The government checks had been coming into the house" for Williams, and "they continued coming to the house," Jackson noted.

Asked about the payments, Joseph Delmar, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Human Services said, "We're looking into that." But he noted that department records show Murphy was not receiving foster-care subsidies for the children.

He added that a "preliminary review" by the department "indicates no legal custody arrangements had been made for the children by the Department of Youth and Family Services. All arrangements were informally made by the family itself."

Gaddie said that after Williams was released from jail, she tried but failed to get her sons back from Murphy because she didn't know where they were.

Gaddie said she spoke to Murphy by phone on Tuesday night as police and FBI agents searched for her. She said she had called a relative in Rocky Mount, N.C., and Murphy answered.

"She didn't say much" and "hung up" when Gaddie started asking questions about the child-abuse charges against her. When she called back, Gaddie said, no one answered.

When cops learned about the call, they checked out the relative's home, said Newark police spokesman Lt. Derek Glenn.