MIAMI – Foster child Rilya Wilson (search) was locked in a cage, tied to her bed and shut in a small room by her caretakers in the months before she vanished and caseworkers failed to notice, prosecutors said.
They charged Geralyn Graham (search), 58, and Pamela Graham (search), 39, with abusing 4-year-old Rilya, who authorities believe vanished in 2001 while in Pamela Graham's care. Her whereabouts remain unknown and authorities have said she is feared dead.
The case rocked the Florida Department of Children & Families (search), which had taken Rilya from her homeless, crack-addicted mother. State workers didn't realize she was gone until April 2002 because they hadn't made required visits to check on her for at least 15 months.
Geralyn Graham, who is already serving a three-year sentence for fraud, was charged Wednesday with kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. Graham, according to police, punished Rilya in the last five months of 2000 by locking her in an animal cage, tying her to her bed and confining her in a laundry room. She could get a life sentence if convicted.
Police say Pamela Graham, who had custody of Rilya, neglected the girl and failed to protect her from Geralyn Graham. She is cooperating with investigators. If convicted, she could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Grahams say the girl was taken from their home by a state welfare worker in January 2001. The agency and police dispute that.
Brian Tannebaum, Geralyn Graham's attorney, said he stood by his client's statements. "I don't have any evidence to the contrary," he said.
Pamela Graham's attorney, Martin Beguiristain, declined to comment.
Geralyn Graham was sentenced last year on charges that included accepting welfare payments for the girl long after she disappeared. Pamela Graham was sentenced to two years of probation.
The women initially identified themselves as half sisters, but Pamela Graham told co-workers Geralyn was her wife. Geralyn Graham claimed to be Rilya's grandmother.
The state's botched handling of Rilya's care led to an investigation of the agency and a management shake-up. Rilya's last assigned social worker was placed on probation.
Authorities wouldn't comment on whether Pamela Graham has given any information on the fate of the girl, who was born Sept. 29, 1996, and whose name is an acronym for "Remember I love you always."
"We would hope that Rilya Wilson is alive," Miami-Dade police director Robert Parker said. "But in actuality, we fear that actually she's not alive."