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Jersey lawyer escapes a Peruvian nightmare

Date: 1996-12-13

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ)
Author: Russell Ben-Ali; Star-Ledger Staff

Baby-trafficking. The words, leveled in a charge by a Peruvian police commander, struck James Gagel like a death sentence.

And it nearly was. The Rutherford attorney and Rutgers law grad traveled to Peru on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1992, Gagel found himself facing a 20-year jail term and a death threat from Sendero Luminoso, the guerrilla organization known as the Shining Path. His name became synonymous with hysterical charges of kidnapping babies to sell their body parts.

But that was 1992. After a year in Lima's San Jorge prison and three more in which he was forbidden to leave Peru's capital city, Gagel returned to the U.S. two weeks ago, first to Florida and then home to Rutherford."It's so great to be back, great to not have to look over my shoulders, great to be once again in an atmosphere of freedom," Gagel, 40, said yesterday as he spoke by telephone from the office of his friend, Hackensack attorney Harold Springstead.

Mother blocked from reversing child abuse plea

Date: 1996-12-11

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC)
Author: JOHN STEVENSON The Herald-Sun

Claiming the Durham public defender's office misled her, a mother attempted unsuccessfully Tuesday to erase her recent guilty plea on charges of abusing her daughter so severely that the child is permanently disabled.

The case against Melinda Ann Wilkins, 32, of 1700-A Gunter St., was described earlier by Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson as ``probably the worst child abuse case I've seen where the child did not die.''

When Wilkins' 19-month-old daughter was taken to Duke Hospital in August 1995, she was unconscious, had a blood clot on the brain, retinal hemorrhaging, a fractured skull and a fractured back. The child still is blind, deaf and unable to walk, talk or feed herself.

Still, Wilkins told Hudson on Tuesday that she was led to believe she would be sentenced to no more than six months in jail for the felonious child abuse charge.

But when she actually was sentenced Nov. 13, Hudson gave her between 31 and 47 months.

Judge lets plea stand

Date: 1996-12-11

The News & Observer
Author: LYNETTE BLAIR MITCHELL; STAFF WRITER

DURHAM - A Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that a woman who pleaded guilty last month to felony child abuse charges knew what she was doing when she entered her plea and that her attorney provided her with competent counsel.

Melinda Ann Wilkins insisted that she was innocent and tried to convince Judge Orlando Hudson during a daylong hearing that she would not have pleaded guilty to abusing her adopted daughter if she had known that she was going to get more than six months jail time.

"I knew I didn't do anything intentionally to hurt my daughter because I went through too much to get her," Wilkins said on the stand Tuesday. "At that time, I was scared. That's why I took the plea bargain

CHILD ADVOCATE FACES 2 CHARGES

Date: 1996-12-05

Post-Tribune (IN)

Author: Post-Tribune Staff Report
Dateline: SHELBYVILLE

A child advocate who helped a Shelbyville man win custody of his 28 adopted kids was charged Tuesday with threatening two of the children if they didn't withhold testimony in the custody case.

Guardian Peggy Hodson allegedly told one of Dan Blackburn's adopted daughters she "would not be heard of again" if she testified in the custody case, according to state police

Hodson, 42, was arrested Tuesday at her Shelbyville home and charged with two counts of obstructing justice. The charges each carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

She was released on $5,000 bond.

In court records, authorities said Hodson threatened or coerced two of the daughters to withhold testimony.

One of the daughters told investigators Hodson threatened her outside the courthouse during the custody case, according to a state police report.

WOMAN CHARGED WITH THREATS TO HAITIAN ADOPTEES

Date: 1996-12-05

News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN)

Author: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dateline: SHELBYVILLE

A woman appointed by the court to represent the best interests of 28 adopted children has been charged with threatening two of the children.

Child advocate Peggy Hodson helped a Shelbyville man win custody of the Haitian orphans earlier this year.

She was charged Tuesday with obstruction of justice for allegedly preventing two of the children from testifying in the custody case. She was accused in court of prejudice because of a romantic link with former missionary Dan Blackburn.

Hodson allegedly told one of Blackburn's adopted daughters she ``would not be heard of again'' if she testified in the case, according to an Indiana State Police report.

``This obstruction of justice accusation was revealed while we were investigating other matters involving the Blackburn family,'' said chief Deputy Prosecutor Doug Brown.

A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE; OPERATION BRINGS BABY TO LIFE

Date: 1996-12-03

Syracuse Herald-Journal (NY)
Author: Amber Smith Staff writer

When his patient awoke from surgery Nov. 6, Dr. Jeffrey Winfield knew he'd made a world of difference.

"All of a sudden, Henry became Henry, and the child was interacting and playful and holding toys and holding a bottle," said Winfield, a Syracuse neurosurgeon.

Henry had a straightforward medical problem - fluid on the brain - which Winfield has corrected in 400 other infants. They all lived within easy driving distance of the Syracuse health mecca and all its fancy medical gadgets and experts like Winfield.

Baby Henry Castellano's fate rested more on the cosmos.

His home is a dirt-floor shack with a leaky roof in the hills of Honduras. Surgeons there operate on poor children only if their families scrounge the necessary supplies.

Shortly after Henry was born last April, his head began growing, as if someone were inflating a balloon in his brain. By the time he reached Syracuse, the 8-month-old had a head the size of an 18-year-old.

Mother jailed in worst child abuse case judge has seen

Date: 1996-11-14

19-month old left blind, deaf, unable to walk or talk

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC)
Author: JOHN STEVENSON The Herald-Sun

A woman who worked as a nanny was sentenced Wednesday to between 31 and 47 months in prison for physically abusing her own daughter, leaving the child permanently disabled.

The sentence for Melinda Ann Wilkins, 32, of 1700-A Gunter St., was handed down in Durham County Superior Court by Judge Orlando F. Hudson.

``This is probably the worst child abuse case I've seen where the child did not die,'' the judge said.

Wilkins had pleaded guilty earlier to a charge of feloniously abusing her 19-month-old daughter last year, leaving the child blind, deaf and unable to walk, talk or feed herself.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Armstrong said Wednesday that the child now ``lives a life of suffering, a life without enjoyment, a life without hope of anything better to come. It's hard to imagine injuries that could be more debilitating.

``I don't dispute that she loved this child,'' Armstrong said of Wilkins. ``She loved her to death. When the child couldn't meet her expectations, she acted out against the child.''

A Sense of Belonging

Date: 1996-10-28

October 28, 1996 Vol. 46 No. 18
A Sense of Belonging
By Thomas Fields-Meyer

Separated from Their Mothers Four Decades Ago in What May Have Been a Widespread, Illegal Adoption Scheme, Three American Women Make An Emotional Journey to Greece in Search of the Families They Never Knew

JAYNE BERNSTEIN'S CHILDHOOD—complete with piano lessons, school plays and time as a junior high cheerleader—was just about perfect. Except for one gnawing issue. "I felt like I never really belonged," she says. "I was somehow different from everyone in my family." Her feeling was more than just intuition. Born in Greece, Bernstein had been adopted as a toddler by a Teaneck, N.J., couple, who told her lovingly from the time she was small where she had come from and how they had chosen her to be their cherished daughter. "I did feel special," says Bernstein, now 40. "But I always wondered about the mysterious woman who had me."

Rage reduction therapy: help or abuse?

Date: 1996-10-24

From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen

FORT WORTH, Texas (CNN) -- As a teen-ager, Jeannie Warren was under the treatment of Dr. Robert Gross for more than a year. During that period, a Texas court says, he beat her, threatened her and restrained her, all in the name of "rage reduction therapy."

Rage reduction therapists believe that angry, misbehaving children will realize why they're so hostile if a therapist holds them down and talks to them. Opponents of the therapy hope that a recent judgment against Dr. Gross will prompt the Texas Legislature to ban the therapy statewide.
Warren

In April 1989, when she was 15 years old, Jeannie's mother committed her to a psychiatric hospital in Fort Worth, believing that therapy would help them get along better. In 14 months, she went through about 25 rage therapy sessions.

"They held me down, he got this close to my face," she said, putting her hand about a foot from her face. Then, she said, the doctor started screaming at her, saying, "You're not in control anymore, are you?"

When she failed to respond, she says he jabbed his knuckles into her ribcage and twisted.

Terrible Two

Date: 1996-10-10

Terrible Two

Renee Polreis and her adopted son had a miserable life together--until someone put an end to it.

By Karen Bowers 
Published: October 10, 1996

In the weeks before her adopted son died, Greeley business owner Renee Polreis told friends she had come to fear David. Where others saw a delightful two-year-old towhead, she saw a monster who was destroying her marriage and making life, in her own words, a living hell.

David's tantrums were horrific, Renee told friends, and he seemed to care for everyone but her. Though the boy, an orphan adopted from Russia, had lived with the family for just six months, Renee confided that she wished desperately to give up custody. The only reason she didn't was that her husband, Dave, a vice president with the ConAgra conglomerate, resisted.

Patient wins lawsuit against psychiatrist Damages awarded in `rage reduction' case against fugitive Gross

Date: 1996-10-09

FORT WORTH - A fugitive Fort Worth psychiatrist, who pinned his patients to the floor and subjected them to hours of poking and screaming, was ordered yesterday to pay nearly $8.5 million to a patient abused in his "rage reduction therapy." State District Judge Ken Curry found that Dr. Robert Hadley Gross defrauded and assaulted Jeannie Warren of Arlington, one of more than 30 patients suing the doctor in separate cases. Gross, who fled his Colleyville home in July...

[excerpt from an article]

Court awards woman $8.4 million Her psychiatrist, sought on fraud counts, defended `rage reduction' therapy

Date: 1996-10-09

A 23-year-old Arlington woman who accused her psychiatrist of physically abusing her during "rage reduction" therapy won an $8.4 million judgment Tuesday. Human rights advocates said they hope the ruling will prompt the Legislature to ban the treatment statewide. The court found Dr. Robert H. Gross responsible for assaulting and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on Jeannie Warren while treating her at the now-defunct Psychiatric Institute of Fort Worth.

[excerpt]

One Year in Adoption Hell

Date: 1996-09-23

New York Magazine
Mark Frankel

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Citing "despicable" practices, the state last week took action to shut down one of the region's most notorious adoption agencies. For the author, who still doesn't know if his prospective child even exist, it was justice at last.

How do you mourn a child you never had, never held, for that matter, maybe never existed? That question has been nagging me for months, After years of struggling with infertility and miscarriages before the birth of our son three years ago, my wife, Susan, and I decided we could not weather the heartbreak of trying and I decided we could not weather the heartbreak of trying to conceive another child. So last year we contracted with Today's Adoption Agency, one of the largest international agencies in the Northeast, to adopt a child from Paraguay. The snapshot the agency sent us of our daughter-to-be showed a butter cream-colored infant with legs like plump sausages and a shock of black hair. We renamed her Molly and put her picture in the dining room for all to see.

PLEAS FREE ADOPTION BIDS; JUDGE REOPENS TAINTED AGENCY AFTER COURT APPEALS

Date: 1996-09-20

New York Daily News (NY)
Author: SALVATORE ARENA

A dramatic plea from a distraught mother-to-be yesterday persuaded a judge to reopen a controversial adoption agency so more than 100 adoptions can be completed under state supervision.

Holding aloft a photograph of her future daughter, Denise Alba of Lindenhurst, L.I., rose from the gallery in Manhattan Supreme Court and begged Justice Carol Arber to lift a court order barring Today's Adoption Agency from doing business.

"It's all over for me if you don't allow the agency to process my adoption," Alba said. "My court appearance in Paraguay is scheduled for tomorrow."

Alba and her husband, Michael, have tried for more than a year to bring a South American toddler named Angelica home to the U.S.

Today's Adoption was shut last week after state Attorney General Dennis Vacco charged in a lawsuit that the private agency had bilked at least a dozen families who hoped to adopt babies.

Vacco accused the agency of leaving the prospective parents childless and defrauding them out of as much as $30,000 each in placement fees.

Adoption agency barred in N.Y. pending hearing

Date: 1996-09-14

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ)
Author: MEG NUGENT

An adoption agency that maintains a Bergen County office has been accused of illegal adoption activities in New York and was ordered to stop doing business in that state.

New York authorities contended Today's Adoption Agency collected thousands of dollars in fees from potential adoptive parents who never received their child.

The agency, which has an office in Fort Lee, has been barred from conducting any adoption activities in New York until a hearing next Thursday in Manhattan's state Supreme Court cq.

The agency's Fort Lee office remained open for business yesterday because the court order does not extend to New Jersey.

Pound Pup Legacy