TIJUANA — An Illinois woman imprisoned here has been formally charged with attempting to buy a 1-year-old Mexican girl, but authorities said Friday that her husband had been released from jail.
The woman, Bette Winks, 49, whose last known address was in rural Hudson, Ill., has been charged under a Mexican statute known as "illegal deprivation of liberty," said Baja California State Judge Alejandro Vasquez Rivera.
Also charged under the same statute, authorities said, was Ivonne Lopez, a 31-year-old Mexican citizen who maintains a home in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles, and has another residence here. Lopez was allegedly paid $3,000 for securing the child for Bette Winks.
If convicted, Vasquez said, both women face prison terms of up to 15 years.
Attorneys for the two women could not be reached for comment. Bette Winks declined to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, Charles H. Winks, 46, was released from custody because no proof was found linking him to the alleged baby-selling scheme, said Agent Miguel Martinez Magana of the Baja California State Judicial Police.
The Tijuana arrests are but the latest child-custody-related controversy in the bizarre saga of the Winks, parents of eight natural children. In 1982 the Winks were one of 12 couples honored by Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson as that state's "adoptive parents of the year." Prompting the award was the Winks' adoption of two children with Down's syndrome, a severe mental handicap.
Since the award, Illinois authorities have twice raided the Winks' home, removing a total of 12 children--including six Mexican-born infants--because the couple could not demonstrate legal custody of the youngsters, said Tom Teague, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in Springfield.
No Charges Filed
One of the children taken away--a 1-year-old boy--was later returned to Louisiana, where officials determined that his mother had sold him to the Winks for $2,500, according to Illinois authorities and a former family attorney. Although the natural mother was later convicted of selling her child, authorities said no charges were filed against the Winks, who have maintained that they never purchased a child but only provided money for children's upkeep.
At times, the Winks have housed as many as 24 children, almost half of them infants, according to Illinois authorities. They have adopted children from New York, Oklahoma, Illinois and Mexico, authorities said. A number of baby-sitters were apparently employed to help care for the youngsters.
No charges have ever surfaced that the Winks abused any of the children, authorities said.
"They're totally dedicated to children in their lives; they feel that's why they were placed on this Earth," said Charles Reynard, an attorney in Bloomington, Ill., who represented the Winks in a custody case against the state.
Ron Dozier, a state's attorney for McLean County, Ill., where the Winks live, said an arrest warrant is pending against Bette Winks on charges stemming from an alleged confrontation with sheriff's deputies who went to her house to take custody of children on behalf of the state. He said the Winks have been "on the lam" for several months and were believed to be living in California.
In the current case, Mexican authorities allege that Lopez used a ruse on Jan. 17 to gain control of the 1-year old daughter of Maria Enriqueta Millan Tostado, a 31-year-old Tijuana mother who was an acquaintance of Lopez. The child was allegedly turned over to Bette Winks for $3,000.
On Jan. 24, according to official accounts, police who had been watching Lopez's Tijuana residence, arrested her and the Winks there. The child was found in possession of Lopez and was eventually returned to her mother, Agent Martinez said.