JANUARY 23, 06:45 EST

Feds: Mom Killed Over Casino Debt

Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — A woman bent on feeding her gambling addiction suffocated her 7-week-old daughter to collect on a $200,000 life insurance policy, federal prosecutors said.

``She would do anything to get money with which to gamble — including the unthinkable,'' prosecutor Ronald Safer told jurors Friday as the trial of Dina Abdelhaq began.

Ms. Abdelhaq, 34, is charged with scheming to defraud Allstate Insurance Co. of $200,000 in life insurance benefits.

The infant ``was killed in a way designed intentionally to create the false appearance that she had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,'' the indictment states.

Ms. Abdelhaq is not charged with murdering her young daughter, Tara, who was found dead in her crib in 1995. Bob Benjamin, a spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney's office, which would bring such charges, declined to comment on the case during the trial.

Ms. Abdelhaq, who denies killing Tara, took out a life insurance policy about a month before her daughter died.

The medical examiner's office has listed the cause of Tara's death as undetermined. Another Abdelhaq daughter, Lena, died under similar circumstances about a year before Tara was born.

Prosecutors claim that Ms. Abdelhaq tried to disguise Tara's death as sudden infant death syndrome, or crib death. Lena's death was initially listed as SIDS by the medical examiner, but the cause of death was changed to undetermined after Tara was found dead.

Both sides agree that Ms. Abdelhaq, an unemployed welfare recipient, is a gambling addict. Her attorney, Scott Frankel, told jurors that his client has a gambling problem ``the like of which you may never have seen.'' In one instance, he said, she sold off her mother's jewelry at a pawn shop near two riverboat casinos in the Joliet area.

But Frankel said that Ms. Abdelhaq is not a killer. He said the medical examiner had not found any signs of homicide in the case of either of the two girls.

``There wasn't, there isn't and there never will be any evidence that Dina Abdelhaq murdered her children,'' Frankel said.

He told the jury that the root of the case was that ``the Allstate Insurance Company didn't want to pay the $200,000.''

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