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Sex abuse at day care alleged

Woman who cared for young children and infants reportedly spoke of abuse and tried to prostitute them.

By John Masson and Vic Ryckaert

Indianapolis Star

January 18, 2001

They're the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, and authorities say they were sexually abused and offered up for prostitution at a Northwestside home day-care center that the state licensed just six weeks ago.

As many as 11 children were in the care of LaDonna Jo Tucker at Puggie Wuggie's, according to Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman. Police are investigating her statements that she molested most of the children in her care -- children ranging in age from 4 months to 2 years.

Even more shocking, the prosecutor said, was Tucker's offer to have the children perform sex acts on a man she had just begun dating. The sex acts would have cost the man $200, Newman said -- enough to help Tucker defray the costs of a trip to Chicago that she was craving.

"I am not easily shocked after six years in this job," Newman said Wednesday. "It is just so depraved. It's every parent's worst nightmare."

The children's relatives agreed.

"I'm still really kind of in shock," said one father. The Indianapolis Star typically does not identify people who might have been victims of sexual assault, or relatives who speak on their behalf.

"I'm just praying that my son hasn't been exploited."

One grandmother summed it up succinctly: "It's just devastating."

Tucker's invitation to the man she was dating, 41-year-old Melvin Riding, led him to notify police, Newman said. Riding cooperated with detectives in a sting operation, and seven days later Tucker was arrested at the home, a yellow brick ranch with white shutters in the 6000 block of Melbourne Road in Pike Township.

The 40-year-old mother of four is now jailed on preliminary charges of conspiracy to commit child molestation and prostitution of children. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration -- which inspected her home on Friday -- has revoked her license.

The criminal charges could change as the investigation continues, Newman said, but a conviction on similar charges could result in a 20- to 50-year prison term.

According to Newman and documents filed Wednesday in Marion Superior Court, this is what happened:

Riding and Tucker began dating in December. During a telephone conversation Jan. 5, the pair started talking about sex. Riding said Tucker told him that she molested children at her day care. He said she also invited Riding to come over sometime and watch.

The conversation made Riding so uncomfortable he went to the police. The Marion County Sheriff's Department began investigating, and Riding agreed to allow detectives to tape a phone call with Tucker. They talked about sex acts with the children, including oral sex, and arranged to meet Tuesday.

Detectives taped a second call Monday during which Tucker said she had performed sex acts on children in her care that day. She also offered to make the children available for Riding to molest.

At one point, Newman said, Tucker advised him to "arrive bearing gifts."

Riding showed up at the day-care home Tuesday morning. Tucker was unaware that Riding was wearing a microphone and had a tiny video camera in his coat. She took $200 in marked bills from him.

That's when a police officer disguised as a package delivery man arrived and arrested Tucker. There were eight children in the home at the time.

The case left even the most experienced investigators voicing disgust.

"You look at how any human being could even possibly do this," said Maj. Mike Turk, who helps lead the investigations division at the Marion County Sheriff's Department. "At the first possible moment we had probable cause (to make an arrest), we acted on it."

Investigators also devised the delivery man ruse to avoid upsetting the children. The youngsters were investigators' central concern, according to Lisa Judd, chief of the sex crimes division at the prosecutor's office.

She added that the children are young enough that any possible psychological damage probably will be minimal. All 11 will be screened for sexually transmitted diseases and examined at Wishard Memorial Hospital's child abuse clinic, Judd said.

Turk vowed that the investigation into Tucker's background, which he said includes at least one alias, will continue.

"Trust me, I'm going to keep a staff of people busy," he said. "We'll find out everywhere this woman has lived . . . if we have to go from city to city, we'll go from city to city."

Detectives' initial attempts to find a criminal history on Tucker turned up nothing, Turk said. The Indiana Division of Family and Children, which ran a similar check as part of its licensing process, also turned up nothing.

"This is a real tragedy, on so many levels," said Family and Children spokesman Andrew Stoner. "It also points out that we have 3,000 licensed child-care homes across the state, and we can't be in each of them every day."

That's why it's so important, he said, for parents to act as the state's eyes and ears. Drop in on day-care providers unexpectedly, he urged. Get to know them well.

"Parents have a real critical role," he said. "But obviously, we're not blaming parents."

Stoner said licensed in-home day-care providers must pass a one-day orientation session that includes information about first aid and CPR, child abuse reporting and early childhood development. Each provider also is checked for any criminal history.

Puggie Wuggie's license was issued Nov. 29, 2000, to Tucker and another woman, who police said wasn't involved. The license -- which was renewed Jan. 1 and would have allowed the pair to care for as many as 12 children up to age 12 -- would have been valid until Dec. 31, 2002.

But state officials revoked that license Wednesday.

Which was cold comfort for the father of one of the children at Puggie Wuggie.

"Who would think something like that?" he said. "You always think this will never happen to you. . . . All you can do is just pray. I pray for all the kids, and even for her."

-- Shock (, January 18, 2001

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