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Farmingdale man at hearing in child-neglect case

Robert Rodriguez, the Farmingdale man police identified as a "person of interest" in the death of a toddler found buried in his backyard, appeared at a hearing to answer child-neglect allegations. Videojournalist: News 12 Long Island (Oct. 11, 2012)

The Farmingdale man police identified as a "person of interest" in the death of a toddler found buried in his backyard appeared before an administrative law judge Thursday to respond to findings that he neglected his 6-year-old son.

Robert Rodriguez walked into the Suffolk County Department of Social Services building in Ronkonkoma in the morning and declined to speak with reporters.

During the hearing, Rodriguez's attorney, Byron Divins of Garden City, did not challenge findings that Rodriguez, 30, and his girlfriend, Heather Kowalczik, 29, failed to adequately care for Alex, 6, one of their two sons, the lawyer said.

Instead, Divins said he asked and the administrative law judge agreed to put the matter off for a year.

"He's taken aback by the media interest," Divins said. "He was living his life, raising his boys, and now there are cameras in his face."

It was the inquiry into the child-neglect matter that led police to find a toddler's body, believed to be Kowalczik's 17-month-old son, Justin, buried in the backyard of the house on Hallock Street where the couple lived with their sons, Alex and Robert Jr., 9. The boys are living with a foster family for now. It is not known who Justin's father is.

Rodriguez and Kowalczik have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Roland Hampson, a spokesman for the department of social services, said he is barred by confidentiality laws from discussing the matter.

Divins said Kowalczik was not at the hearing. She has reportedly returned to her family in upstate Orange County.

The hearing, not open to the public, lasted for less than 10 minutes, Divins said. Afterward, he and Rodriguez, accompanied by a team of security guards, exited a side door and left in a sport utility vehicle.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk medical examiner's office is trying to determine a cause of death for Justin. Since Rodriguez, Kowalczik and their sons moved into the house on Hallock Street in July 2010, none of the neighbors said they had seen a third child. Police believed the toddler's remains have been there since July 2010.

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