FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas - The mother of seven disabled children taken into custody by state welfare workers had an extensive criminal history at the time she adopted the children, according to investigators.
A CPS spokesperson says prior to 2006, background checks for prospective parents only covered crimes committed in Texas. That year the requirement was expanded to include the entire U.S.
CPS also said checks are done at minimum every two years, and no criminal history showed in Texas during each check of the mother.
According to investigators, Paula Sinclair has a criminal record across five states: Texas, California, Louisiana, New York and New Jersey, which includes burglary, fraud, forgery and theft.
The state took custody of the children Tuesday after Fort Bend County officials found them malnourished and living in deplorable conditions at a Richmond-area house just before Thanksgiving.
Police said the children were adopted between April 2003 and October 2004 by Sinclair, 54, and her husband, who does not live at the house and is not facing charges. Allen Richardson, 78, also known as "Coach," also lived at the house, is facing charges.
The children -- two 14-year-olds, four 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old -- were malnourished, locked in a filthy, bug-infested room that smelled of human waste according to police. They were never allowed to go to school or leave the room. The children told investigators they risked being beaten if they tried to escape.
There are five boys and two girls. Two of the seven, including a 14-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome, and another boy who is blind, are non-verbal.
Police said all are undersized for their ages.
“Where the door knobs were supposed to be in a normal home, there were dead bolt key locks,” Lead Detective Julie Johnson with the Ft. Bend Co. Sheriff Office said. “We were told when Paula Sinclair and Alan Richardson left the location, it wasn’t good enough they were locked in the room, they were actually locked in the closet."
The children were taken to a Houston hospital for treatment.
As of Tuesday, the children remained in the hospital. Those who are able to speak are helping investigators, officials said.
All seven children stayed in one room in the home, detectives said.
When Sinclair took Richardson to a doctor, the children were kept in a closet roughly 5 feet by 8 feet in size, police said. The closet had clothes and boxes inside, making the space small and confined, and the adults were gone so long that the children would urinate on themselves, according to police.
Deputies said Sinclair was originally a foster mother for the children, taking each of them in as an infant, then adopting them between 2003 and 2004.
Once the kids were adopted, there was no state or county regulation.
The home also operated as a group home, which is also unregulated. Three disabled adults lived there in addition to the children.
One resident told KPRC 2 that the adults lived on the first floor and the children were kept in an upstairs bedroom.
They were not allowed to interact and he described the home as a “prison.”
“I have never been upstairs,” David Willard said. “I have never been upstairs in five months. Of course, I was told not to speak to anybody here.”
Willard said the children were fed beans and rice three times a day and were forced to eat in their rooms.
“They’d go to the bottom of the stairs, the kids would wait and Coach would bring them a tray with beans and rice, three times a day. That’s how they were fed,” Willard said.
Some neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade were stunned to learn that children lived in the house.
A bank account titled "7 Children of Fort Bend" has been opened at Independent Bank located at 19855 Southwest Freeway just outside of Greatwood. Those desiring to donate cash may do so there.
One woman told KPRC 2 that she knew the family personally and had no idea they had children.
“I’ve never seen a kid living in that house or going to school or anything of that sort,” said Leena Mir.
Investigators said a Fort Bend County sheriff's deputy stopped by for a welfare check in April 2016, but the children lied about their living conditions for fear of retribution.
In November, a tip came into the CPS hotline and sheriff's deputies were called.
CPS said, "Seven children, (five boys and two girls from age 13 to 16), were removed by Child Protective Services (CPS) from a home in Richmond on Wednesday, Nov. 23, following a report to CPS that alleged possible physical abuse. The report was received Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 22, and a caseworker responded immediately.
"The children, who were all adopted, are receiving complete physical examinations and will be placed in foster care. The affidavit to support the removal of the children was filed Wednesday, Nov. 23 in Fort Bend County's 505th State District Court and CPS was granted temporary custody by Judge Cindy Aguirre.
"CPS is continuing a joint investigation with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Department."
Sinclair and Richardson are facing felony charges of aggravated kidnapping and injury to a child.
They remain in the Fort Bend County Jail under $200,000 bond each.
The next custody hearing for the children is scheduled for Jan. 18.
Case workers said Tuesday they will work with the children in an effort to keep them together.
"It's definitely a situation that we wouldn't want to see any child in, especially children that we've taken care of before, but definitely that's something that unfortunately we see sometimes and definitely want them to be in a situation not like that. We want them in a better situation,” said Tiffani Butler with the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Police are trying to determine if money was a motive in keeping the children locked up.
CPS officials say parents of adopted, disabled children typically receive $540 a month from the state for each child.
According to authorities, a boy with cerebral palsy who was adopted by Sinclair in 2004 died in 2011. Investigators are looking into that case.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office said it will accept donations, including gift cards, bed sheets, young people's books, school and art supplies -- but no clothes -- at the sheriff's office.
Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office
1410 Williams Way
Richmond, TX 77469