ALLEN v. FAMILIES THRU INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION, INC. et al
Masha Allen has filed a suit against the agencies involved in her adoption. Good news for those who want to hold child placement organizations responsible and accountable for the work they are supposed to do.
The defendants in the cace are Families Thru International Adoption, inc. (FTIA), Reaching Out Thru International Adoption, inc. (ROTIA), Child Promise, inc. and Jeannene Smith.
Let's clarify that list for those not too familiar with the Masha Allen case.
In 1997, Jeannene Smith was working as an independent contractor for FTIA. and in that capacity received a request for adoption from Matthew Mancuso, the man who later adopted Masha Allen. At that time relations between Jeannene Smith and FTIA were deteriorating and Jeannene Smith created her own agency, ROTIA, which finalized Masha Allen's adoption after Mancuso's request was transfered from FTIA to ROTIA.
During the congressional hearings "Sexual exploitation of children over the internet: follow-up issues to the Masha Allen adoption before the subcommittee on oversight and investigations of the committee on energy and commerce house of representatives", Keith Wallace, Chief Executive Officer of FTIA, made the following testimony with regards to Jeannene Smith and her relations with FTIA:
FTIA’s working relationship with Ms. Smith was interesting, to say the least. Ms. Smith is very industrious and very intelligent. It was partially through her urging that FTIA developed some of its foreign adoption programs. Even if I had done research in starting a new program, Ms. Smith would always have additional and helpful information. I even traveled with Ms. Smith several times when starting a new program.
I was contacted by Ms. Smith in the second half of 1996. Ms. Smith asked if she could work with FTIA. I contracted with Ms. Smith to work as a northeast regional coordinator for FTIA. Her main responsibilities were to hold informational seminars for prospective adoptive parents, provide education about adoption, and network with other professionals to get the word out about FTIA and the services we provide.
Initially I had agreed to let Ms. Smith receive some original dossiers from adopting parents and forward paperwork directly to our foreign representative for either Guatemala or Russia. But, after discussions with Anna Montez of the New Jersey state licensing agency, I withdrew that permission – that would have been very early on, most likely in late 1996. Ms. Montez explained if Ms. Smith was to have responsibility with a foreign representative or process paperwork (dossiers) in New Jersey, FTIA would need to obtain a New Jersey license. At that time FTIA had no interest in a New Jersey license.
The problems of FTIA’s working relationship with Ms. Smith were several. At the very beginning of her work in August of 1996, I submitted a short agreement for her to sign. She would suggest a change. I would make the change and resubmit the agreement to her only for her to come up with an additional change.
Through 1997, FTIA encountered many difficulties with Ms. Smith. The main problems in Ms. Smith’s performance were promising time frames to prospective adopting families that were not realistic, not following the procedures FTIA had established for her, and misrepresenting her relationship with FTIA. For these reasons and other reasons, I personally provided Ms. Smith verbal notice that I was going to terminate her contract with FTIA. As a courtesy, I advised her about a month before I actually terminated her so she could either find another agency to work with or she could get her own license. Ms. Smith was sent formal notice of her termination by letter dated February 13, 1998. Ms. Smith then founded an agency Reaching Out through International Adoption (Reaching Out). Because Ms. Smith continued to misrepresent her relationship with FTIA – after she created Reaching Out - FTIA sued Ms. Smith in federal court in December 1998. The lawsuit was settled in June, 1999.
After terminating her relationship, then we actually signed some agreements. We signed more than one agreement to settle our outstanding issues because after an agreement was signed, all the sudden there were new issues according to Ms. Smith or issues I thought had been settled but Ms. Smith did not understand it that way. During this period, I even wrote a letter of recommendation to the New Jersey licensing authority on her behalf. I had concluded that she could not work for FTIA, but I knew she was smart so I thought maybe she can run her own agency.
It was not until later that I finally said enough is enough and filed suit against Ms. Smith.
Ms. Smith recruited Mr. Mancuso to adopt while she was an independent contractor for FTIA. FTIA does not know how, when, or where Ms. Smith first had contact with Mr. Mancuso. FTIA did receive an application from Ms. Smith for Mr. Mancuso in 1997. The application had FTIA’s name, but Ms. Smith’s email address and physical address. FTIA received a copy of Mr. Mancuso’s dossier and a check in January 1998, which represented the second of three (3) payments for the FTIA agency fee. Again, the copy of the dossier and the check were sent to FTIA by Ms. Smith. However, FTIA never received an original dossier from Mr. Mancuso. When Mr. Mancuso submitted his dossier to Ms. Smith in January of 1998, I believe I had already verbally advised Ms. Smith that her contract with FTIA would soon be terminated.
The way FTIA has always processed applications is: after receiving an application it would be reviewed to determine if it was complete and the applicant(s) appeared to be qualified candidates for international adoption based on the information in the application. If approved, a coordinator is assigned to assist the family from start to finish with their adoption. The assigned coordinator would typically call the new applicant to introduce his/herself and to explain he/she was available to answer questions as they worked on INS (now CIS) approval and their dossier. Ms. Smith, as a regional coordinator, would provide some support and guidance during the dossier preparation, however, once the dossier was submitted all subsequent contact was to be with the FTIA coordinator in Evansville. This would include sending the referral information of a child to the family, arranging travel to the foreign country, providing travel letters and instructions and follow-up with all required post placement reports.
All files of adoptive families that complete their adoption through FTIA have several contact notes, copies of referral information on a child, copies of travel letters, and travel itineraries, etc. None of this is in Mr. Mancuso’s file because FTIA did not complete his adoption.
Soon after FTIA terminated its contract with Ms. Smith, FTIA sent a notice to the families that Ms. Smith had recruited. FTIA advised that if the family wanted to continue with FTIA all subsequent contact would need to be with FTIA. Applicants in the process of adopting that did not respond to this letter had their files closed.
Mr. Mancuso was such a client with no record of any direct contact with an Evansville coordinator. Although we had received an application and a copy of the dossier from Ms. Smith, our records indicate no contact directly with Mr. Mancuso. I concluded that he and others that did not respond to the letter from FTIA advising of Ms. Smith’s termination had completed their adoptions with Ms. Smith’s new agency. These applicants’ files were closed.
Thus, in Mr. Mancuso’s case, even though he completed an FTIA application (with a New Jersey address) and FTIA appears on some of his dossier documents, FTIA did not complete his adoption. Of particular note about Mr. Mancuso’s file - the home study prepared by Family Health Council, Inc. dba Family Adoption Center of Pennsylvania identifies FTIA as a New Jersey licensed agency. Mr. Mancuso submitted his original dossier to Ms. Smith, but FTIA never received his original dossier. If Evansville had received an original dossier, we would have record of (1) receiving it, (2) reviewing it, (3) sending it to one of the Russian coordinators/facilitators we worked with at the time. In addition, we would have record of receiving the last payment of his FTIA agency fee as well as a copy of the international fees. There are no such records and FTIA still has possession of all records from the inception of FTIA in 1995. Our policy was and is to keep a copy of all checks received at FTIA in the adoptive parent’s file.
FTIA is currently licensed/accredited in Russia by the Ministry of Education. Russia has long required four post placement reports after an international adoption is completed. Prior to the rule of four post placement reports, I believe Russia required three post placement reports. FTIA has a 100% record of submitting post placement reports to Russia as far as I can recollect. I have had to work very hard to make certain all post placement reports are submitted. In fact, I had to threaten legal action against a few families to secure their post placement reports. I have always had families sign documents agreeing to submit all required post placement reports and that if FTIA had to go to court to force compliance, FTIA would also be entitled to attorney fees. Most families willingly submit post placement reports. But a few families are not cooperative with the post placement report for a number of reasons.
I do not know for certain what adoption agency completed Mr. Mancuso’s adoption. I do know it was not FTIA, and I assume it was Ms. Smith based upon her April 21, 1998 communication to me when we were trying to settle outstanding issues of her termination. I do not know if anything was done wrong in the procedure allowing Mr. Mancuso to adopt. However, from what I have seen and heard something went very wrong with the required post placements.
Jeannene Smith was questioned before the same committee, but that day she suddenly suffered from temporary partial amnesia, so unfortunately she was not able to give any details about the case. Here are some of the answers she gave:
I don’t really know
I am looking at this document, but I don’t recall this.
I have no way of knowing that
I think we had a role in it, yes. I don’t know who, ultimately.
I don’t know. I don’t recall--
I don’t know the answer to that.
I don’t know that, but can I ask my social work--
I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.
Her evasive responses and complete lack of accepting responsibility didn't go unnoticed. Congressman Whitfield made the following statement, which blasted Jeannene Smith's conduct in the Masha Allen case:
First, the evidence shows that Jeannene Smith, the founder of an adoption agency called Reaching Out Thru International Adoption, was the placement agency for Mancuso’s adoption of Masha. Mrs. Smith attempted to mislead committee staff about her role in Masha’s adoption and withheld documents in an attempt to minimize her role. I believe the reason she sought to minimize her role is because with that role came certain responsibilities. Ms. Smith did not live up to those responsibilities and as a result, Masha was left in the hands of a pedophile for many years. The primary responsibility that I am referring to is one that Masha rhetorically asked the committee in her testimony when she was here and she said, “Why didn’t anyone ever come to check on me?”
No one came to check on Masha because Ms. Smith’s agency, the agency responsible for the placement of the child, never told the home study agency that Mancuso had a child placed in his home, so the home study agency never followed up. Mrs. Smith also, in my view, shirked her responsibility to obtain three post-placement reports required by the Russian government, from Mancuso. These reports required exactly what Masha asked about; a licensed social worker to come see her at Mancuso’s home; to see how she was doing and progressing; and to talk to her.
Instead of, at a minimum, calling a licensed post-placement agency in Pennsylvania, which is where Mancuso and Masha were living, and asking them to contact Mancuso and set up a meeting, she went ahead and had one of her social workers call Mancuso and write a report based on a phone call. This report was then sent to the Russian authorities as an official post-placement report. Notably, nowhere in the report does it say it was based on a phone call. It is my understanding that a telephonic post-placement report is almost worthless and more importantly, a social worker can only do a post-placement report in the State in which they were licensed.
Jeannene Smith and her social worker were not licensed in Pennsylvania. I would like to know why they did not take their responsibility seriously and in the fact of documentation to the contrary, why she has repeatedly tried to mislead committee staff into believing she had a minor role and that her agency did not have contact with Mancuso after Masha was brought to the United States.
It is clear, from all the documents we have reviewed, that from the start of Mancuso’s adoption in August of 1997, all the way to the last contact with him, the infamous telephonic post-placement report in November of 2000, Ms. Smith and her employees were the only people Mancuso was contacting about his adoption of Masha. While certain official forms that Mancuso submitted may have had her former employee’s company’s name on it, an agency called Families Thru International Adoption, at all times Mancuso was a client of Ms. Smith.
I will certainly have some questions about why Families Thru International Adoption was not more stringent in their overview of these adoption applications that Ms. Smith was handling, but that doesn’t take away from her central role in Mancuso’s adoption of Masha. And we expect to get some answers here today. One of the things that is also disturbing about this international adoption process is the lack of and absence of any Federal guidelines or Federal regulations. And so it appears to me this is an area that certainly this committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, as a whole, needs to look at very closely.
After the congressional hearings Jeannene Smith changed the name of ROTIA in Child Promise and stayed in business until February 2008.
|Defendant:||FAMILIES THRU INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION, INC., CHILD PROMISE, INC, REACHING OUT THRU INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION, INC. and JEANNENE SMITH|
|Filed:||September 15, 2008|
|Court:||New Jersey District Court|
|Office:||Camden Office [ Court Info ]|
|Presiding Judge:||Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez|
|Referring Judge:||Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio|
|Nature of Suit:||Torts - Injury - Other Personal Injury|
|Cause:||28:1332 Diversity-Personal Injury|
|Jury Demanded By:||Plaintiff|