DALLAS – Three of the seven American children abandoned at a Nigerian orphanage had suffered years of abuse, including broken bones and beatings with extension cords, before they were adopted by the woman who left them in Africa, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The oldest of those three children told investigators that her mother and grandmother often beat her and her two brothers with a black belt and an extension cord nicknamed the "persuader," according to court files seen by The Dallas Morning News (search).
The children's mother denied harming them.
"I gave them nothing more than a little whip on the behind to keep them straight," LaQuinta Teague told the newspaper. "I am a good mother."
Child Protective Services (search) has declined to reveal details of the children's treatment or how it handled allegations of abuse before it approved their adoption in 1996 by Mercury Liggins, who is accused of abandoning them in Africa.
A judge in Fort Bend County (search) sealed the court file containing information about the 1996 adoption of four other Houston-area children by Liggins. However, a juvenile court in Dallas allowed the Morning News to review files for the other three children.
The oldest Dallas girl told CPS caseworkers that her mother and grandmother often beat them.
"She whops (sic) us on our bottom, hips and on our hands," the girl, then 6, told CPS caseworker Kallie Capps.
The children, now ages 8 to 12, were so terrorized that one of the boys told school officials he could not go home after soiling his underwear because he feared he'd be beaten, according to the files.
"The next day, he came to the school with an abrasion on his lip, stating his mother hit him on the mouth with a belt," Capps wrote.
CPS caseworkers investigated abuse allegations at least six times. The children were removed from Teague's custody while she was serving a prison term for assaulting a police officer.
Liggins, the adoptive mother of all seven children, also has been accused of abusing them. CPS officials received several complaints of abuse and neglect, but a spokeswoman said the children always denied they were being abused.
Since they returned from Africa this month, however, the children have told of beatings with canes and switches by Liggins.
U.S. authorities believe the seven American children arrived in Nigeria last October with Liggins, but that she left within weeks. She later took a job as a food-service worker in military mess halls in Iraq, but quit in July, U.S. officials said.
Her attorney said she left the children with her brother-in-law.
The Morning News said Liggins received state child-subsidy payments conservatively estimated at nearly $250,000 between 1996 and 2004, yet her children often complained to neighbors of being hungry. A relative said Liggins treated her biological children well but was miserly toward the adopted children.
Liggins has declined to comment. Her lawyer said she will seek to regain custody of the children, who have been placed in two foster homes pending a custody hearing on Thursday.