WAKEFIELD — A convicted sex offender who provided home day-care services to unsuspecting families was indicted Thursday on charges of raping and abusing at least a dozen infants and children, a case prosecutors described as the most disturbing they had ever seen.
John Burbine, a 49-year-old from Wakefield who worked in his wife’s child-care service, was accused of assaulting 13 infants and young children who were in his care, many of them repeatedly, over a two-year span beginning in August 2010. Law enforcement officials said he videotaped the attacks, compiling hundreds of hours of footage. The alleged victims, both boys and girls, ranged from 8 days to 3 years old.
“I’ve never seen a case this bad,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. said in a press conference announcing the charges Thursday afternoon. He vowed that Burbine would spend the rest of his life in jail.
The abuse allegations, which involved 100 counts and included charges of forcible rape and indecent assault, were the worst he had encountered as a prosecutor, Leone said. “The basis for these indictments is chilling,’’ he said.
Burbine had three convictions in 1989 involving indecent assault and battery on a child, according to court records, and is classified as a Level One sex offender, the category for individuals considered the least likely to reoffend. The state’s Department of Children and Families investigated Burbine on suspicion of sexually abusing young boys in 2005 and in 2009, court documents show. Leone said both claims were investigated, but neither “was prosecutable.”
His wife, Marian Burbine, was apparently unaware of her husband’s alleged abuse over the last two years, but knew that he was a Level One offender and that there had been previous allegations made against him, authorities said. She has been accused of recklessly endangering children and running an unlicensed day-care center. The business, called Waterfall Education Center, was based in Wakefield and provided a range of child-care services, mostly in children’s homes.
The couple advertised on a number of websites, including parenting and coupon sites. They offered overnight newborn care, group child care that involved transporting children to other homes, and a summer activities program, officials said.
Marian Burbine would tell parents her husband was there to help her with the children, and assured them he was an “experienced and problem-free” sitter, according to prosecutors. He would care for the children when she was not present, prosecutors said.
Authorities learned of the center in July, when the Department of Children and Families received an allegation that John Burbine had abused a child. Leone said investigators soon found that the center was operating without a license and ordered it closed.
According to court records, the July complaint involved a 2-year-old girl whom the couple cared for along with her infant sister. After just weeks in the couple’s care, the toddler “began exhibiting sexualized behavior,” documents stated. John Burbine was arrested in late September and remains in custody.
The investigation led to search warrants for the couple’s office and Wakefield home and then to the broader indictment announced Thursday.
Marian Burbine was arraigned in early October and was released on bail. She has been ordered to stay at home at night and stay away from children younger than 16. The couple does not have children of their own.
John Burbine’s lawyer, William J. Barabino, said his client will plead not guilty at his arraignment next week.
Barabino said he had yet to see the evidence against his client; the allegations of abuse include posing a nude child and posing a child in sexual conduct. John Burbine is also charged with 13 counts of possessing child pornography.
Barabino declined to say whether Burbine may eventually plead guilty.
“I think if all the evidence that they say they have is admissible evidence, then I think it’s not about defending a case,” Barabino said. “It’s about negotiating one.”
The children John Burbine is suspected of abusing are from several suburbs north of Boston, including Reading, Stoneham, Melrose, and Woburn. Leone said prosecutors were able to identify all the children depicted in the video footage, which was seized from Burbine’s home computer. But the couple had cared for “several scores of children” over the past two years, and investigators could find others, he said.
Court documents in the case against Marian Burbine provide more details about the two earlier allegations against John Burbine, whose case files have largely been impounded.
According to court records, the 2005 allegations involved a 7-year-old boy for whom John Burbine had been caring. According to the allegation from Leone’s office, Burbine on at least one occasion had rubbed the child’s genitals while arousing himself.
The 2009 allegation involved a 5-year-old boy who said John Burbine had fondled his genitals on more than one occasion. An investigation revealed that Marian Burbine had introduced her husband to the child’s family and offered to provide child-care services. When she met with investigators, she acknowledged that Burbine had at least once looked after the child for several hours. She was later informed of her husband’s status as a sex offender.
Despite this apparent knowledge, Marian Burbine began referring families to her husband when offering her child-care services, according to her court files. In one instance, she told the grandfather of two young children John Burbine had no legal issues or prior convictions. With his wife’s referral, Burbine began caring for the children four or five times a week.
In September 2011, a Stoneham family hired the couple to care for their newborn son. But soon, John Burbine began baby-sitting, including overnight care, with the parents in the house.
In the Burbines’ Wakefield neighborhood, a quiet street of modest, well-kept homes, neighbors were horrified by the allegations. Bob Fahey, father of two children under the age of 2, said the couple had offered to watch their children, but Fahey and his wife declined.
John Burbine “seemed odd,” he said. “It’s just disturbing.” The charges suggest Burbine is an “absolute monster,” Fahey said.
Another neighbor, Brian Evans, 39, said Marian Burbine had warned him a few years ago not to let her husband watch his son. When he and his wife asked why, she would only say that “he’s not good with children,” he recalled.
“I feel terrible for these kids, and these parents,” Evans said. “It’s awful.”
From time to time, Evans would see children coming and going from the Burbines’ house, he said. Marian had mentioned to him that they wanted to start a family, he added.
Burbine’s lawyer said the charges against his client are “clearly disturbing.”
He added that Burbine has voluntarily submitted to testing for sexually transmitted diseases, to address any concerns of parents of alleged victims that their children may be infected.
“John did that without reservation,” he said. “It’s a very, very small measure in the scope of a very large investigation, but for what it is, he did it.”
Burbine is being held at a county jail in Cambridge, and is “very scared,” Barabino said.
“Anytime anyone’s in jail, there’s the propensity for violence, and I think given the charge, he is clearly a target.”