Rilya's Caregivers Arrested, Accused Of Fraud

By ALEX VEIGA, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) - The former caregivers of Rilya Wilson, whose disappearance exposed disarray in Florida's child welfare agency, were arrested Wednesday on fraud charges.

Geralyn and Pamela Graham were arrested on several charges related to Rilya's disappearance, said Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.

The charges include public assistance and driver's license fraud, said John Coffee, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent. He wouldn't elaborate.

Griffith said Geralyn Graham's son, Leo Epson, and her daughter, Jacqueline Epson, were also arrested.

Geralyn Graham's bail was set at $600,000. Bail information for Pamela Graham and the Epsons was not immediately available.

Pamela Graham's attorney Joshua Fisher said his client was "not informed they were going to be arrested or why they were arrested." Geralyn Graham's attorney, Ed Shohat, did not return a call seeking comment.

Rilya lived with Pamela Graham, who had legal custody, and Graham's sister Geralyn, who had claimed to be her paternal grandmother, from April 2000 until January 2001.

That's when Geralyn Graham said a state child-welfare worker took her away for evaluation, never to be seen again. Rilya, who was 5 at the time, was supposed to receive monthly state visits but was not reported missing until last April 25 because of a bureaucratic blunder.

Rilya's mother, Gloria Wilson, lives in East Cleveland. Rilya was taken away from Gloria because she had developed a substance-abuse problem.

Geralyn Graham has at least 33 aliases and a long history of criminal and civil court cases, according to court records. In reams of documents, lawyers question whether Graham is a con artist or severely mentally impaired. A judge said both might be true.

FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore said there was still no information on what happened to Rilya or whether she is alive.

"I'm an eternal optimist," he said. "We hope for a successful, happy ending but facts and statistics are not on our side."

He said the reward for information leading to Rilya's recovery was raised Wednesday from $75,000 to $100,000.

The case resulted in the resignation of top child welfare administrators at the Department of Children & Families, including Secretary Kathleen Kearney.

A blue-ribbon committee blamed Rilya's disappearance on deception by two low-level workers and her caregivers, but it recommended 21 short-term priorities and nine long-term objectives for an agency "engulfed in scandal."

And it turned out that Rilya's disappearance while under DCF supervision wasn't an isolated case.

In July, the agency acknowledged losing track of 532 children in its care and suffered more embarrassment when a newspaper found 22 of them by checking public records and doing a little legwork.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)