PRINCETON (WCCO) -- A widely-respected foster care mother from Mille Lacs County has been charged with the cruel punishment, endangerment and neglect of a child.
Mille Lacs County District Court records say 46-year-old Mary Roelofs of Princeton put a 3-year-old boy out in the cold in little clothing, and even withheld food as punishment when he didn't do as she instructed.
Court records show on December 9, 2011, Mary Roelofs was caring for the child of one of her employees. That mother noticed a bruise on her boy, and the child's doctor was concerned about the extent of the bruises on his upper body.
When questioned by authorities, Roelofs told investigators she "grabbed him and put him in the garage" and admitted to putting him outside in the cold when he didn't sweep the floor. She said she put him out in the cold three or four times, because that was how the boy's mother punished him, and she was trying to be consistent.
Authorities say the weather in Minnesota that day ranged between 5 and 17 degrees. A witness at the home told investigators the boy was outside with a T-shirt and "pull-up" diaper.
Other court allegations include punching the boy after he pushed another child, saying, "How do you like to be bullied?" Records also say Roelofs withheld food and naps as punishment.
When asked to explain the bruises on the child's upper body, Roelofs told Mille Lacs County Sheriff's deputies she didn't remember doing anything that would have injured the boy. According to court records, she said she didn't recall being frustrated, but added that "it's possible on any given day to step over the line, but that's not her goal."
At her home, Roelofs referred WCCO to her attorney, Kevin DeVore, saying she couldn't comment with the pending case.
"I can tell you they are absolutely devastated and shocked because of the charges," said DeVore. "They've dedicated their lives to caring for some of the most troubled youth and adults in the state."
The Roelofs residence has been home to at least 300 foster children in 24 years, according to DeVore, who says Roelofs employs people to help her care for foster children.
Roelofs has already experienced hardship, after her 12-year-old son Micah was killed in a car accident last March. She shared her sorrow with WCCO back then.
DeVore says the true character of a loving mother will be revealed in court.
"Mary Roelofs will vigorously defend herself against these charges. Her day in court will come and she will have her opportunity to tell her side of the story, and I know when that happens it will be clear she is innocent of these charges," said DeVore.
Roelofs' foster children were removed from the home as part of the protocol with the investigation.
Roelofs appears in court Tuesday. If convicted of the charges, she could face up to nine years in prison or a $22,000 dollar fine.
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