All parents in sect lose custody of children

The Providence Journal / August 18, 2000

A Juvenile Court judge has ruled that the adults are unfit parents and all 13 minor children have been taken away.

ATTLEBORO - Six more children were permanently taken away from parents who are members of an Attleboro religious sect after hearings in Juvenile Court yesterday.

After two days of hearings, all sect members who are parents of minor children have been declared unfit and have had their children taken away. In all, 13 children are involved. In the cases of seven of the children, custody was awarded to their fathers, who are not members of the sect. Plans are being made for the other six children to be adopted by aunts, with whom they have been living since the state took custody of the children in November.

The sect has been under investigation since the death of Samuel Robidoux, the 10-month-old son of sect members Jacques Robidoux and Karen Daneau Robidoux, in November.

Dennis Mingo, a former member of the sect, tipped authorities that Samuel might not be well after finding a 10-page diary that described the infant growing weak from hunger after being switched to a breast- milk-only diet. The police were unable to locate Samuel and now believe that he died last year from malnutrition. The diary does not make it entirely clear why breastfeeding, which is normally sufficient for a child of that age, was apparently inadequate for Samuel.

Five of the six children in court yesterday were those of Dennis Mingo and his estranged wife, Michelle Robidoux Mingo, who is still a member of the sect.

Judge Kenneth P. Nasif terminated Michelle Mingo's rights as a parent and awarded custody of the children, ages 3 to 10, to Dennis Mingo. The sixth child in court yesterday was the infant daughter of Mark Daneau and Trinette Robidoux Daneau. The judge terminated their parental rights and awarded permanent custody to the state Department of Social Services. That clears the way for the girl to be adopted. The department has proposed she be adopted by an aunt who lives outside Massachusetts.

During yesterday's proceedings, which were closed to the public, none of the sect members were represented by lawyers, testified or offered evidence in their favor. They stood silent, like "department store mannequins," as described by one person in the courtroom.

Yesterday and Wednesday's court hearings were the result of what are called care-and-protection petitions filed by the Department of Social Services, alleging the sect members were unfit as parents. The department cited reasons such as not sending the children to school, not obtaining medical care for them and not feeding infants properly.

The Juvenile Court proceedings were separate from a criminal investigation being conducted by Bristol County Dist. Atty. Paul F. Walsh Jr. into the death of Samuel Robidoux.

Since April, a special grand jury has been hearing testimony in the case. Eight sect members have been jailed for refusing to testify before the grand jury. Several other members have refused to testify, but have not been locked up.

Also, Jacques Robidoux had been locked up since Nov. 10 for refusing to tell Judge Nasif where his son, Samuel, was. Under state law, parents are required to provide the courts access to children who are the subject of a care-and-protection case.

Karen Robidoux was also jailed for a few days for the same reason, but was released when she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to implicate herself in a crime.

Nasif released Jacques Robidoux from Juvenile Court custody on Wednesday, after ruling Samuel is presumed dead. However, Robidoux is still being held for refusing to testify before the grand jury.

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