Court records reveal Rothgeb deep in debt

Warwick Beacon ·

Michele Rothgeb, the 55-year-old Oakland Beach woman who is awaiting trial in a child neglect case that resulted in the death of her 9-year-old adopted daughter with cerebral palsy, owed more than $15,000 in collective various debts between December of 2017 and March 2018. Four of these collection suits have been closed, but one high-value case remains open, according to Rhode Island court records.

Beginning with a case filed Dec. 12, 2017, Rothgeb was taken to court by three separate entities in five separate debt collection efforts. The debtors include Capital One Bank, LVNV Funding LLC and Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC and ranged in values sought from $1,960.95 (closed on April 2, 2018) to a case seeking $4,489.77 filed on Feb. 13, 2018, which remains open and unsettled.

In total, the lawsuits amount to $11,210.15 in debt that Rothgeb has settled with debt collectors, with the aforementioned nearly $4,500 payment still being sought through court.

The information adds more complexity and questions to a situation already rife with both. Rothgeb had adopted six children, all with some form of special needs, through the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) system – the most recent of which was finalized in July of 2018 – in addition to adopting two of her grandchildren, both of which also had some form of disability.

On Jan. 3, Warwick Police responded to a call for assistance at Rothgeb’s home and found a deplorable scene. The house was full of trash and human refuse, and among the horror was the unresponsive body of Zhanae Rothgeb, who had been left unattended in a bath tub for multiple hours with only her 15-year-old adoptive brother tasked with her care. The young child was pronounced dead shortly after being rushed to Kent Hospital.

DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White said on Wednesday that there were three home visits conducted to the Rothgeb residence by a DCYF safety inspector – first on Feb. 24, 2016; then on March 6, 2017 and most recently on April 5, 2018. She said that the home passed each of the inspections all three times, which includes checking smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and a checking of the home for “hazards.”

“If a home does not pass inspection, the home will not pass licensure [for adoption],” White said, adding that once a parent is approved for an adoption, visits from DCYF caseworkers are no longer conducted.

White outlined the adoption process, which typically takes three to six months and includes a series of state and national background checks, a child abuse and neglect clearance check for Rhode Island and any other state the applicant has lived in the previous five years. It also includes a 10-week training and a home study, which she described as “a comprehensive evaluation of the providers and family related to safety, well-being, and caregiving capacity.”

White said that, as part of this home study, DCYF seeks to assess the “financial stability” of a family and that DCYF does “expect that families can meet the basic needs of children in their care.” However, when asked if DCYF has a minimum household income requirement for adoptive families – especially those who seek to adopt multiple children – White said no such policy was in place.

“The Department does not set a minimum income, as finances can look different for each family,” she said. Providers must be able to meet their own expenses without use of a subsidy payment.”

As White mentioned, subsidies are available to adoptive parents who take in children who fit certain criteria aligned with federal standards – such as kids with special needs or kids who are adopted together with their siblings. Not all adoptive parents get subsidies, and the total subsidy may not exceed what it would cost the state to keep the child in foster care.

Rothgeb was receiving nearly $4,800 a month in DCYF subsidies to supplement the six children adopted through their system.

In regards to the debt that Rothgeb was facing, White said that credit checks are not a part of the DCYF process for approving or denying adoptions. Additionally, two misdemeanor offenses that Rothgeb was arrested for while living in Florida in the early 90s – one for resisting arrest without violence and the other a charge for petty theft and multiple driving violations – were not deemed to be grounds for denial to adopt.

“Prior criminal convictions are not an automatic disqualifier for licensing, depending on the charges and when they occurred,” White said.

Rothgeb will appear in court Feb. 25 for a pre-trial screening. Her attorney, Andrew McKay, declined to comment on this story.