NEW YORK -- A former social services official who gained national prominence as "Father of the Year" in 1983 for adopting at least 35 handicapped or troubled children said yesterday that he was trying to negotiate a plea bargain in his sexual-abuse case.
Gregory Watts, a lawyer for the defendant, Kodzo Dobosu, told Justice Frederic S. Berman of State Supreme Court in Manhattan that he and Assistant District Attorney Nancy Patterson were "exploring discussions aimed at a possible disposition of this case."
Mr. Dobosu had repeatedly maintained that he was not guilty and that the charges against him were a racially biased prosecution, in speaking at numerous rallies and news conferences that followed his arrest on May 21, 1991, on charges of sexually abusing three of his adopted children .
After conferring privately in Judge Berman's chambers, the sides failed to reach an agreement.
Outside court, Mr. Dobosu, who is free on bail, admitted he was negotiating a plea bargain but declined to give any details.
Prosecutors who insisted on anonymity said they had offered Mr. Dobosu an arrangement under which he would either plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve six months in jail or plead guilty to a felony without having to serve any prison sentence.
The prosecutors declined to say why they were not seeking a stiffer penalty. But they explained that a felony plea would prevent Mr. Dobosu from ever adopting another child.
The charges came from a 14-year-old adopted daughter, who testified that Mr. Dobosu had sexually fondled her, from an adopted son who said that Mr. Dobosu had poured hot tea on his genitals, and from an adopted daughter who said he poured hot sauce on her genitals.
Six months after the first charges, Mr. Dobosu, 52, was also indicted in the theft of $11,000 in New York City child-care funds intended for a child who was no longer under his care. The plea-bargain under discussion involves all the charges against Mr. Dobosu, prosecutors said.
The charges against Mr. Dobosu generated new demands for an investigation of the city's child welfare system and pressure to repeal a state law that permits city welfare officials to invoke a cloak of secrecy in refusing to provide any information about a child under their supervision.
Ever since Mr. Dobosu was arrested, the city's Department of Social Services has refused to provide any information about Mr. Dobosu or explain how he obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in city adoption subsidies without strong safeguards.
At Family Court hearings last summer, several of Mr. Dobosu's adopted children testified that they had been sexually abused repeatedly. And welfare officials said that when they arrived at a four-story building in Manhattan last May and removed the remaining children under Mr. Dobosu's care, in May 1991, they found a scene of filth and squalor.