HOUSTON – Three children who were victims of a swinger's club in a small East Texas town have been removed from the custody of their foster parents after accusing their caretakers of physical and emotional abuse, a child welfare official said Wednesday.
A judge in Wood County on Tuesday ordered that the three siblings — a 13-year-old girl, 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl — plus a 17-year-old boy be placed in the temporary custody of Child Protective Services, said Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The siblings had been living with John and Margaret Cantrell, who is the person who had first alerted authorities about the swinger's club in Mineola, located about 80 miles east of Dallas. The couple had been taking care of the children since 2005. The 17-year-old boy was adopted by the Cantrells.
Sarah King, an attorney for the Cantrells, declined to comment Wednesday. No charges have been filed against the couple.
Officials say the three siblings had been some of the victims of a "kindergarten" where young children learned to dance provocatively at the so-called Mineola Swinger's Club in 2004. To help them perform, prosecutors said the children were given Vicodin-like drugs the adults passed off as "silly pills." Seven people were convicted in the case.
Pulliam said CPS was alerted on Oct. 31 when the 16-year-old girl ran away from the Cantrells home in Mineola after a "physical altercation between her and Mrs. Cantrell."
"We were called by the Cantrells to pick up that 16 year old," Pulliam said. "They were refusing to parent that child any longer."
CPS workers interviewed the girl as well as the other three children, all of whom made allegations of abuse, Pulliam said.
According to court documents, the 16-year-old girl alleged she had been "slapped across the face" and "popped in the mouth" by Margaret Cantrell. Another child was allegedly beaten with a wooden back scratcher until it broke.
CPS had previously investigated similar allegations made against the Cantrells but they were not substantiated, Pulliam said.
The agency had also known that John Cantrell had faced charges in 2008 of a lewd act with a child related to a case from California. But nothing from that case could be used because the charges were later dropped, she said.
A judge had ordered that the three siblings be placed with the Cantrells, though CPS was not in favor of it, Pulliam said. The agency also didn't approve of the Cantrells' adoptions of the 17-year-old boy or another child who is now an adult.
"We felt there were problems with the home and we did not want the children to stay there," she said.
Pulliam said CPS is still investigating the abuse allegations and will work with the Cantrells, offering them counseling and other services.
A status update on the case is scheduled for Dec. 6.
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