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Doubts Trail Missing Girl Caretaker

May 13, 2002

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MIAMI (AP) _ Doubts are mounting about the woman who says a child-welfare worker took 5-year-old Rilya Wilson from her home last year and never returned her.

An Associated Press review of court records from past criminal and civil cases involving Geralyn Graham shows that she has used at least 33 aliases and that lawyers in the past have questioned whether she was a con artist or severely mentally impaired. A judge in one case thought both might apply.

``She has certainly presented herself in a way that defies knowing her and understanding her,″ clinical psychologist James Butcher concluded in December 2000 after reviewing a mental assessment test taken by Graham in a lawsuit she had brought against a rental car company.

Rilya was sent to live with Graham, who claims to be her paternal grandmother, and Graham’s sister Pamela in April 2000. She stayed with the sisters until January 2001 when, Geralyn Graham says, a state child-welfare worker took Rilya away for evaluation.

The girl was supposed to receive monthly state visits, but state workers didn’t report the child missing until April 25 _ 15 months after Graham says the child was taken from her.

Florida Department of Children & Families Secretary Kathleen Kearney has said the girl isn’t anywhere in the state system.

When DNA samples on Friday ruled out that a body found in Missouri was Rilya, Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos Alvarez disclosed that the Graham sisters had each failed a polygraph test. He wouldn’t say what questions were asked or where the sisters showed deception.

``Everybody involved in this case is being investigated. Nobody is immune,″ Alvarez said, answering questions of whether any charges were forthcoming.

Attorney Ed Shohat, who is representing the sisters for free, criticized the disclosure and said police ``had to find a way to turn attention on someone else″ to deflect concern that they are no closer to finding Rilya.

Court records involving Geralyn Graham show others have questioned her credibility, including her own sister.

In a landlord-tenant dispute after Rilya’s disappearance, Pamela Graham sent a letter to the court saying she was Geralyn Graham’s guardian because her sister ``now suffers from dementia″ because of a 1996 van accident, the court records show.

Geralyn Graham’s memory was vague to nonexistent in a deposition with Alamo Rent-A-Car in a personal-injury lawsuit stemming from that 1996 accident, in which Pamela Graham backed over her sister. Geralyn Graham refused hospital treatment but later claimed debilitating head injuries.

In a January 2000 deposition in the case, Geralyn Graham said she couldn’t remember her street address but had it written down. She didn’t know her Social Security number because ``somebody stole my purse.″

In other depositions and doctors’ reports in the case, she couldn’t remember who her father was, her two husbands, details of the accident or whether she took a shower that morning.

A birth certificate found by Alamo indicates Geralyn Graham was born Geraldine Thomas in Greenville, Miss., on Jan. 14, 1946. Alamo also turned up an assortment of Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses, along with 15 aliases.

Two licenses were obtained on the same day in 1990 under different names _ Gerrilyn Pindling and Gerrilyn Cartwright. In the Pindling license photo, puffy chin-length hair is swept off her face and earrings dangle to her collarbone. As Cartwright, she looks prim, and most of her face is obscured by oversized eyeglasses.

``Clearly scammers and criminals can be injured and are entitled to damages from the party causing their injury,″ Geralyn Graham attorney Bambi Blum wrote in the Alamo suit in January 2001, the month Rilya disappeared.

Alamo attorney John Korf called her claim in the lawsuit that she needs round-the-clock care ``an absolute falsehood.″ He said she received a $10,000 payment for a claim of head, neck and lower back injuries from a 1994 rear-end collision. She reported receiving Social Security benefits for a mental disorder in 1986, suffering a broken hip in a 1972 car accident and getting knee replacement surgery in 1999.

Albert Zbik, Geralyn Graham’s psychologist, said she was ``far too uneducated and unsophisticated″ to fake symptoms she didn’t have.

``You can’t prove she’s malingering,″ the judge in the case said, citing ``a 25-year documented history of a major mental health problem″ and no Alamo experts to discount her doctors.

That’s when Alamo hired Butcher, who helped revise the MMPI, the standard diagnostic tool used by clinical psychologists to assess patients. Butcher said Graham’s 567-item true-false test ``fits the category of someone who just sits down and takes the MMPI to try to look psychologically disturbed.″

Judge Norman Gerstein has refused to dismiss the lawsuit, and it has been on hold since Alamo filed for bankruptcy protection last November.

Shohat, the Grahams’ attorney, said he had not reviewed the eight-volume Alamo file, but added, ``I haven’t heard any allegation that she’s a scam artist.″ He said he doesn’t believe Geralyn Graham has dementia, but that she suffers from severe arthritis pain.

Geralyn Graham has held several jobs over the years, including working as a lay pastor and a managed care worker, ran a business and was charged with bouncing checks in Miami. In Tennessee, she served a two-year prison sentence for a 1985 food stamp fraud conviction.

Geralyn Graham was being treated for dehydration in a hospital, Shohat said, and could not be reached for comment on the court documents.

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