Tulsa foster parent charged with abuse is arrested on plane headed to Costa Rica
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 26, 2011
3/26/11 at 9:05 AM
A Tulsa foster parent charged with sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl in his care was arrested Friday morning in Houston on a Continental flight bound for Costa Rica, law enforcement officials said.
Donald Ellis Lehmbeck, 63, was charged with two counts of child sexual abuse and one count of possession of obscene or indecent writings, stemming from allegations made by a foster child, according to charges and a search warrant affidavit. The victim's sister, also a foster child in Lehmbeck's care, reported the incident to their mother during a supervised visit, the affidavit states.
A search warrant was executed Tuesday at his residence on the 6800 block of West 41st Place, according to court records.
Deputies had been tracking Lehmbeck's movements and knew he was scheduled for an international flight in Houston on Friday, said Tulsa County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Yerton.
Lehmbeck was arrested by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
"He was scheduled for a later flight today and hopped on an earlier one," Yerton said. "Had it been half an hour earlier, he would've been in the air. He was on the plane getting ready to taxi out and fly to Costa Rica."
Arlene Norwood, a live-in girlfriend, was issued a protective order against Lehmbeck on March 18, and a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault and battery is pending, according to Tulsa County court records.
Norwood told deputies she found "stories" on his computer about an affluent couple who travel to Mexican villages to buy local children for sexual intercourse, according to the search warrant affidavit.
"Norwood discovered e-mails to an individual in Costa Rica inquiring about obtaining a furnished apartment and asking about the local area," the affidavit states.
Norwood said some websites contained the word "pedophiles," and the stories about the Mexican trips "constantly refer to molesting" and involved sexual acts with children, the affidavit states.
The charge of possession of obscene or indecent writings alleges he knew and intentionally downloaded into his computer "stories depicting and describing graphic sexual conduct between adults and a child."
A family member of Norwood who lives in Wagoner County made an allegation against Lehmbeck of sexual molestation in February, the affidavit states. No charges have been filed.
The Tulsa County charges state the alleged incidents occurred between Aug. 1, 2010, and Feb. 11.
Lehmbeck faced similar allegations in 2009 by two different foster care children, and DHS investigated the claim, the affidavit states.
DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said she could not comment about the earlier allegations.
No arrest was made or charges were filed.
"Obviously, we were disappointed upon hearing of the allegations against this foster parent," Powell said. "When the allegations were made, we immediately removed the children from the home pending the results of the investigation. We hold our foster parents to a very high standard and do not tolerate actions like this."
Powell said she was unsure how long Lehmbeck has been a foster parent.
Television station KOKI-23 sued DHS in October 2006 and the Tulsa World joined the suit in August of 2007. The suit requests the names and dates of birth of foster parents so reporters can check available public records for placements not in compliance with the law on who can serve as foster parents.
DHS has appealed a Tulsa County District Court judge's order requiring the agency to disclose names and dates of birth of some foster parents.
DHS is defending a class-action federal lawsuit filed by New York-based Children's Rights seeking reforms in the foster care system. It is expected to go to trial as early as October.
Lehmbeck is being held in Houston, and county officials are working on extradition to Tulsa, officials said.
Original Print Headline: Foster parent is charged with abuse
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Donald Ellis Lehmbeck: The 63-year-old was arrested Friday in Houston on a Continental flight bound for Costa Rica.