July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

Since she began taking in foster children in 1993, comedian Paula Poundstone has become the Mia Farrow of the West. As of last month, five children—two foster, three adopted—were living in her Santa Monica home. And though some of her charges are physically handicapped or emotionally troubled, “she has a hard time turning a kid down,” says friend Lily Tomlin. Poundstone, who relies on two nannies, has cared for a total of nine children and had begun the process of adopting Vincent, at 9 months the youngest of her foster kids. “She was asking me to think of a middle name,” says a friend, attorney Beth Kataldo. “She wanted it to have something to do with the word ‘glue.’ She feels he helped pull the clan together.”

But now the family is torn apart, and Vincent and the other children, none older than 13, have all been placed in foster care. On June 27, Santa Monica police arrested Poundstone, 41, who is single, on charges of committing lewd acts on a girl under 14 on three occasions, as well as endangering two other girls and two boys, all within the previous two months. After posting $200,000 bail, she made her only public comment: “I have faith that the truth is the right thing.” She was expected to plead not guilty at a scheduled July 3 arraignment. Despite having cooperated with police investigators, “she’s totally in the dark,” says a source close to her. “She doesn’t even know who her accusers are.”

She does have vocal defenders, however. “I can’t imagine there is anything but perhaps a twisted imagination” behind the charges, says Mary Tyler Moore, who worked with Poundstone on a children’s audio book. Adds Tomlin: “I’ve seen her with her children often. They adore her. I’m only praying this all ends positively.”

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