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CYFD places four on paid leave over handling of child prostitution case

Copyright © 2018, Albuquerque Journal

Four employees of the state Children, Youth and Families Department have been placed on leave in connection with the case of a 7-year-old girl who allegedly was being prostituted by relatives.

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela on Monday confirmed the four employees — case workers in the Child Protective Division — were placed on paid administrative leave, “pending the results of the ongoing investigation into this case.”

He said he was unable to release the names of the workers, citing a confidentiality clause in the state personnel code.

The case made headlines last week after the state Attorney General’s Office filed a criminal complaint in Metropolitan Court that said CYFD and law enforcement had encountered the family of the girl multiple times dating back to 2012, yet the girls and her brothers remained with the family until last month.

The AG’s Office said CYFD received more than 20 referrals alleging emotional, physical and medical abuse and neglect of the girl and her two older brothers.

Two of the referrals mentioned possible sexual abuse. CYFD employees only confirmed one allegation.

The children remained with the couple until late April, after a school nurse contacted authorities with her concerns. All three are now in CYFD custody.

Arrested in connection with the case were James Stewart and Teri Sanchez, both 37.

Stewart is charged with human trafficking, promoting prostitution and other charges. Sanchez is charged with abuse of a child and contributing to the delinquency of a child.

Both Sanchez and Stewart remained at the Metropolitan Detention Center Monday night, according to online jail records.

CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said late last week that she launched an internal investigation because she was concerned with how he department handled the case.

The girl told investigators that Stewart would make her touch his friends’ genitalia in exchange for drugs and that she was taken to “secret parties” — later determined to be strip clubs — where she was left by herself while Stewart’s wife performed.

The girl also told investigators that she and a brother were left alone to panhandle on street corners and were encouraged to steal and pickpocket.

Jacobson said last week that it appeared CYFD did not do enough to protect the young girl.

“I have many concerns, both with the number of referrals and the action, or lack of action, based on the information in those referrals,” she said.

The AG’s Office became aware of the case when a nurse at an Albuquerque public elementary school reported her belief that the girl had been the victim of human trafficking and sexual assault.

The child made comments about “hustling” and had once been dropped off at school wearing high heels, press-on nails, makeup and with her hair done. Also, she had not been to school in several weeks.

School officials told investigators that the family was homeless and the girl and her brother were frequently absent from school, fell asleep in class and often were unkempt.

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