Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bucks DA: Mom accused of teen's killing illegally cashed government checks

Feb. 3, 2017
Sara Packer
The former Abington foster mom and child welfare worker accused of killing her daughter is now accused of collecting more than $4,000 in government payments after the 14-year-old girl was dead, according to new court documents filed in the homicide case.

Sara Packer, 42, of Richland and Horsham, allegedly continued to collect monthly government subsidies after the July rape and death by strangulation of Grace Packer. Authorities charged the mother and her boyfriend Jacob Sullivan, 44, of Horsham, with homicide, abuse of a corpse, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy. Sullivan is also charged with rape.   
Sara Packer after her arraignment
The Bucks County District Attorney alleges Sara Packer collected $4,433.08 between July and November, when the remains of her daughter were identified after they were discovered on Halloween. The money represents two checks Sara Packer received each month for Grace from the Social Security Administration and an adoption subsidy from Berks County, which handled the adoption of Grace and her younger brother.
The new charges Sara Packer faces are theft by failure to make the required disbursement of funds and tampering with public records, both felonies, and a misdemeanor charge of misapplying entrusted government property. She and Sullivan are incarcerated in Bucks County prison without bail. 
The defendants could face the death penalty. Sara Packer on Friday waived her right to a preliminary hearing on all the charges against her, according to her court-appointed attorney, Keith Williams. He declined further comment, but confirmed no deal was made in exchange for the waiver.
Sullivan is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 24 at the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown Borough.
Prosecutors allege Packer continued to cash her daughter’s monthly Social Security Disability benefit checks after she reported the girl missing to Abington police. Packer never reported that her daughter was missing to the Social Security Administration or Berks County, authorities said. 
Court documents state Sara Packer repeatedly lied on required Social Security Administration forms and a questionnaire after Grace’s death to make it appear the girl was alive. In a probable cause affidavit released Friday, Bucks County authorities allege Packer stated in a document filed in August that her daughter “still fails eye exams with glasses, needs constant supervision” and is “argumentative and sexually inappropriate, lies often, manipulative, steals.” 
Packer also said in another document filed with Social Security that, “Grace can have no unsupervised time. She is impulsive and makes dangerous decisions." And Bucks County investigators allege Sara Packer forged her daughter’s name on a Social Security Administration form more than a month after Grace was strangled to death.
Court documents allege Sara Packer failed to notify Berks County that Grace was dead and continued collecting a monthly subsidy that was part of the subsidized adoption agreement she signed in March 2007, when she finalized the adoption of Grace and her brother.
Prosecutors allege Sara Packer helped plan the killing and watched or assisted as Sullivan beat and raped the teen, bound and gagged her and left her to die in the sweltering attic of Packer's rented Richland home. When Sullivan and Packer returned hours later to find Grace still alive, Sullivan strangled the child until she was dead, according to a criminal complaint. The couple then covered Grace’s body with cat litter and mothballs and left her for three months inside a closet, investigators have said.
In October, Abington police who were following up on Sara Packer's July 11 report of her missing daughter visited the Richland home and asked about Grace's whereabouts. After that visit, prosecutors allege, the couple dismembered the girl's body and dumped it 100 miles away in Luzerne County. Hunters discovered the remains on Halloween. Investigators in November confirmed the remains as Grace Packer.
The killing has captured international attention not only for its brutality, but because Sara Packer is a former foster mother and a child welfare worker.
Between 2000 and 2010, Sara Packer and her then-husband, David Packer, were foster parents for 30 children, authorities said. Among those foster children were Grace and her brother, whom the couple began fostering in 2004 when Grace was 3.
In 2010, the state revoked their foster parenting privileges. That was the same year David Packer was charged with sexually assaulting Grace, then 9, and a foster child with mental challenges. David Packer was convicted of both crimes and served five years in prison before he was released in 2015. He's required to register as a sexually violent predator. The Packers divorced last year, records show.
A subsequent child welfare investigation found substantial evidence that Sara Packer committed child abuse “by omission” under the state’s civil Child Protective Services Law, meaning that she failed to stop the abuse or notice it happening. Williams said his client didn't know Grace was being sexually abused and didn’t know about David Packer’s sexual involvement with the foster child until she turned 18.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@calkins.com; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

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