Adoption King Cuts Mexican Ties
By Carolyn Poirot
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Chicago.——An attorney who claims to be the nation’s king of adoptions says he got out of Mexico adoptions three years ago because they were too much trouble. "It became too difficult," Seymour Kurtz said last week. “International adoption is too complicated .... I am leaving that to others smarter and braver than I."
Becci Kelley of New Market, Iowa, who has been linked to Kurtz through telephone records obtained under court order by Illinois officials, said Kurtz tried to warn her to stay away from Mexican adoptions. "I just wish I would have listened to him," she said last week.
Kelley is one of three people being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Iowa attorney general’s office and agencies in at least five other states on complaints that they defrauded couples in the United States seeking to adopt Mexican babies out of thousands of dollars.
Kurtz and Kelley say they have been friends for many years but deny any joint business dealings. Both said Kurtz has never been associated with Bryan Hall of El Paso and Debbie Tanner of Willcox, Ariz., the two named with Kelley in a consumer fraud suit filed by the Iowa attorney general. Hall and Tanner, along with Kelley also are the subjects of investigations by federal and state authorities.
Beginning in October, the Star—Telegram, in a series of articles, has revealed problems with Mexican adoptions handled by the three.
The articles have detailed the plight of U.S. couples who are so desperate to adopt children that they have paid thousands of dollars on the mere promise of a child.
Including among those is a Bedford couple who said they paid more than $7 000 to Tanner, Hall and Kelley for a baby. Like couples from at least 16 other states, they never received a baby.
“From about 1980 or early ’81. I have had no contact and no involvement with the adoption of children from Mexico or any part of Latin America to any part of the United States or the world," Kurtz said in a telephone interview from his office in Atlanta, Ga.
Kurtz, who in 1973 in Mexico set up the first adoption agency that specialized in arranging adoptions for U.S. couples, said he went south of the border to find babies when the supply of adoptable babies became short in this country. He set up Casa del Sur, outside of Mexico City, with the help of Mexican officials, he said.
“When I worked in Mexico, my agency was sponsored by the cardinal and President (Louis) Echevarria," Kurtz said. "One left office and the other retired and things became too difficult."
Shortly after the government of Louis Echevarria was replaced by Jose Luis Portillo in December 1976, Casa del Sur, a federally chartered agency, was liquidated. A second agency was established under a state charter but never really got going and was closed after a few years, Kurtz said.
'Kurtz said now he does only domestic adoptions and hopes to set up adoption agencies in every state.
Asked if the rumor that he wants to be king of adoptions is true, Kurtz said "Oh no. I already am. We do more placements of healthy, white children than anyone in this country."
He said he is involved only with Easter House, his Chicago agency, and Friends of Children, a similar agency in Atlanta. The two agencies place between 250 and 300 children a year, Kurtz said. Kurtz now lives in Atlanta.
"It is our intention to be a licensed agency in every state in the union," he said. But the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is trying to close his operations. A Kurtz has been battling licensing requirements with the department since 1976 when his agency was temporarily closed. The department again refused to renew his license in 1981 and beefed up efforts to close Kurtz’s operation.
He appealed and demanded a hearing.
The result has been three years of verbal arguments, which just recently were summarized and sent to a hearing officer.
The arguments center on licensing regulations and non-refunded payments for home studies that did not end in adoption.
Kurtz argues that the state of Illinois has no jurisdiction over the price that he charges for a home study of parents seeking to adopt or over whether the fee is refundable. He contends that the decision not to renew his license was based on personality conflicts.
Mark Poulsen, who heads the departments legal staff, said Thursday that the hearing officer should issue a decision any day. He said if the hearing officer agrees with Kurtz, the state will fall back on efforts begun in July 1982 by attorneys general in Illinois and three other states to win a court order halting Kurtz’s operation.
In seeking the injunction, the attorneys general argued that Kurtz violated the laws of Illinois. New Jersey, Michigan and Indiana in placing children in those states.
"We investigate license violations," Poulsen said. "We do audits on all our licensed facilities.
Sometimes they are routine and sometimes they are done because we get complaints. In the Easter House case, we did get plenty of complaints.
"A year ago, the attorney general filed for an injunction through the circuit court to try to close him down. If we don’t win this one, that one will be reactivated," Poulsen said.
Records in the case indicate that most of the complaints involved couples who paid for home studies and then decided not to adopt through Kurtz, either before or after the studies were completed. The couples complained that they demanded refunds of fees from $300 to $1200 but were told the fees were non-refundable.
"The major issue was his Mexican operation," Poulsen said. Poulsen acknowledged that Kurtz has apparently stopped his Mexican operation but said the department wants to revoke his license to prevent him from operating in Illinois.
To further complicate the legal picture, Kurtz filed suits in federal court in 1976 and 1977 charging that his civil rights were violated by workers of the Children and Family Services Department who want to put him out of business. Those cases are still pending.
In the meantime, Kurtz is continuing to operate.
"It (adoption) is the most enjoyable thing I've ever done in my life, notwithstanding the barbs from a few people," Kurtz said.
"Our work is Christmas time every clay, he said.
Kurtz said he expects "no fair treatment. from the Illinois agency because he is doing a better job without government subsidies than most others in Illinois do with federal grants.
Kelley said she began calling Kurtz after Iowa officials began looking into her operation because she knew of his troubles in Illinois.
"He’s a friend. That’s all. We have been friends for many, many years. We are acquainted through adoptions, and when this thing started with the (Iowa) attorney general’s office, I knew, he had been in a lawsuit with the state of Illinois, and I called him to discuss it, Kelley said.
"I can guarantee you, there have been no business dealings between us, and he doesn’t even know Bryan Hall or Debbie Tanner.
She also contends that she should not be considered a major figure in the overall investigation because it involves several dozen other people working in different states to match adoptive parents with babies provided through Tanner and Hall, as she did.
Kurtz said he has known Kelley several years.
"I think she is a person who means to do things well and sometimes makes a mess of it," Kurtz said.