May 5, 2002
MIAMI -- A statewide background check of a caregiver did not show her criminal record when a girl now missing for 16 months was placed in her care, the head of Florida's child welfare agency said Saturday.
Kathleen Kearney, the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said that a check of Geralyn Graham showed no criminal record in Florida when the state gave her custody of Rilya Wilson in January 2000.
"It's not a perfect system," Kearney said at a news conference in Miami. "We don't have access to all databases. We need to flesh it out and look at it more in depth at the federal and state level to get more access."
A court records check by the Miami Herald showed that Graham had used 20 different names in 20 years, was diagnosed with a "psychotic syndrome," spent time in a Tennessee prison for food stamp fraud and served five years probation for grand theft in Miami-Dade County.
Rilya was reported missing April 25 but had not been in Graham's custody since January 2001. Graham told police a woman from DCF took Rilya from her Miami-Dade County home.
Graham, listed in state documents as Rilya's paternal grandmother, said she hasn't seen Rilya since. The child is feared dead because police believe a beheaded body found last year in Kansas City, Mo., may match the missing Miami girl.
DNA tests made from a cheek swab taken from Rilya's biological mother will be completed to determine if the decapitated girl nicknamed Precious Doe is Rilya.
Miami police earlier this week relayed a hand print from Wilson to Kansas City, and authorities said it didn't match Precious Doe's print. Now questions have arisen about whether the print came from Rilya, and investigators say there are many similarities they can't ignore.
Rilya's mother, Gloria Wilson, lost custody of the child because of a drug addiction. She has said that Graham is the girl's godmother and that she met her after getting to know Graham's daughter in a drug treatment program.
Kearney, who arrived in Miami on Friday to head the investigation, said her agency could not have known about Graham's criminal past. Until 2001, she said, the agency did not have access to the National Crime Information Center, a computerized index of criminal justice data.
The agency did run Graham's name through the state's criminal database. But Kearney said Graham's record was "clean at the time of placement."
According to the court documents, the state placed Rilya in Graham's care six months after Dr. Steven D. Wheeler diagnosed Graham as having chronic pain and "a psychotic syndrome . . . reminiscent of schizophrenia." The diagnosis was made after Graham was involved in a 1996 car accident, the Herald reported.
Graham's condition was likened to a form of psychosis, her attorney, Edward Shohat, said Saturday.
"Ms. Graham does not have mental problems," Shohat said.
Graham, under the name Gerrilyn Savage, served time in a Tennessee prison for food stamp fraud.
Graham said she had used several aliases in a 1986 disabilities application she filled out while imprisoned in Tennessee.
She also was arrested five times between 1980 and 1983 for writing bad checks and grand theft, records show.
Shohat said Graham "used identities" about 30 years ago to hide from an abusive boyfriend.