PITTSBURGH – A judge has thrown out most criminal charges against a Pennsylvania woman accused of endangering and concealing the whereabouts of her twins, who haven't been seen in more than 10 years.
Allegheny County Judge Thomas Flaherty let stand a charge of unsworn falsification, which alleges Patricia Fowler, 48, made misleading statements to police who began investigating the whereabouts of the twins last year.
But the judge, in a ruling issued late Wednesday, found there's insufficient evidence the Penn Hills woman obstructed justice, concealed the children's whereabouts from their incarcerated father or endangered the twins. Fowler didn't obstruct a child abuse case or endanger the children because there's no evidence they've been harmed — they simply can't be accounted for, the judge ruled.
At Fowler's preliminary hearing in October, Allegheny County Detective Michael Kuma testified he believed Ivon and Inisha Fowler, a boy and girl who would be almost 19 now, were dead. Kuma said he believes that because their older brother, Datwon, who will be 20 in August, told police he believed the twins were sick the last time he saw them more than a decade ago.
Patricia Fowler remains jailed on charges she's collected nearly $50,000 in welfare benefits for the twins despite having not seen them for years. Her public defender, Aaron Sontz, has a policy of not commenting to the media.
Flaherty took the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families to task for not keeping better track of the children. That agency has refused to comment on the case because its dealings with allegedly abused children are confidential.
The judge noted Ivon was badly scalded in a bathtub when he was about 2, but welfare caseworkers didn't alert police or begin the process to have him removed from Fowler's care. A caseworker testified at another hearing in 2006 that the twins were reportedly living with relatives in North Carolina and doing well, but five months later the agency closed the case after the agency told a judge that the twins couldn't be found.
CYF was not able to validate that the two children viewed by caseworkers in 2006 "were actually the twins, as the child presented as Ivon did not have any scars from the severe burns he suffered in 2000," the judge wrote."
Penn Hills and county police became involved with Fowler and her children again in June after CYF caseworkers asked for help removing four other minor children from the home for unspecified medical neglect. About two weeks later, the agency called back and told police about Ivon and Inisha, saying they hadn't been seen since at least 2006.
Fowler at various times told police the twins were living with friends or relatives in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. She even claimed once that she sold for $2,000 each to a woman she didn't know in a deal brokered by a man she met in a bar, but later acknowledged that was a lie, authorities said.
Police have been unable to find any school records using the children's names, birthdates and Social Security numbers.
District Attorney's spokesman Mike Manko said the office is reviewing Flaherty's ruling. The office could appeal it to Superior Court or try to refile the charges and present more evidence.
Datwon Fowler remains jailed on charges including conspiracy and criminal use of a cellphone, which he's accused of using to text a detective while claiming to be Ivon in August. The cellphone text message claimed the boy was safe.
But GPS tracked the phone to the address where Datwon Fowler lived with his mother, not out of state, where the Fowlers claimed the twins were living. Police say Datwon Fowler then acknowledged lying and pretending to be Ivon.
Datwon's attorney, Richard McCague, didn't immediately comment Thursday.