Los Angeles County officials have taken custody of six children formerly under the care of Bette Louise Winks, a one-time exemplary parent in her home state of Illinois who is jailed in Tijuana on charges of attempting to purchase a 1-year-old Mexican girl for $3,000.
The children, ranging in age from 18 months to 6 years, will be placed in foster care while their cases wind their way through the Juvenile Court system, said Charlene Saunders, coordinator for the Juvenile Dependency Court in Los Angeles. The children were taken into custody last week.
Winks, a former elementary school teacher, and her husband, Charles Winks, who runs a service station in Bloomington, Ill., are longtime residents of central Illinois who apparently moved to the Los Angeles area last summer.
Parents of eight biological children, they were one of 12 couples honored in 1982 as Illinois' "Adoptive Family of the Year" after they adopted two handicapped children.
Recently the Winkses have run afoul of the law because of questionable practices employed to gain custody of as many as 20 other children, including many infants believed to have come from Mexico.
In the last 18 months, Illinois authorities have removed 10 children from the Winkses' custody, among them nine who are believed to have been born in Mexico. The nine are in foster homes in Illinois, and officials said they were not adopted.
In January, Mexican authorities arrested the 49-year-old Bette Louise Winks in Tijuana and accused her of attempting to purchase a girl for $3,000. She could face up to 15 years in jail. Meanwhile, Mexican officials are investigating the cases of other infants formerly in custody of the Winks family.
The Winkses have denied attempting to buy or sell a baby.
Details of the matter involving the six children taken into custody in Los Angeles County remain sketchy because of confidentiality guidelines governing cases dealing with minors.
The Times has learned that the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services took them into custody after receiving reports that the children, some of whom suffer from Down syndrome and other handicaps, were being left for weeks at a time with baby sitters who did not provide adequate care.
Police found one of the youngsters, a 3-year-old girl with Down syndrome, wandering in Monterey Park near the home of one of the sitters late last month.
Emery Bontrager, the executive assistant for the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, declined comment.
The children were taken last week from two homes in the Los Angeles area, said John Hughes, a special agent with the anti-smuggling division of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Diego. Hughes has investigated the Winks case and said a baby sitter had been caring for the children.
Of the six children taken into custody, Hughes said, three had been legally adopted by the Winks family in Illinois and three others were Latino children under the Winkses' care who had not been adopted. The parents of the Latino children are unknown, authorities said.