Guatemala's inquiry raises doubts on U.S. adoptions

Date: 2008-03-11

Guatemala's inquiry raises doubts on U.S. adoptions

Fraud is claimed, and a Florida man is sought.

March 11, 2008
Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY - Luciany Ball's adoption file says she was born 14 months ago by caesarean section to a single mother who gave her up so she could be raised by a loving family in a six-bedroom Indiana farmhouse.

Now some of the documents appear to be fraudulent, part of a slew of irregularities at the agency handling Luciany's adoption that have left dozens of babies in danger of being seized from their anguished American adoptive parents. The inquiry also casts a cloud of uncertainty over about 2,900 pending U.S. adoptions.

Prosecutors describe their inquiry into Casa Quivira - considered Guatemala's best adoption agency - as their first serious attempt to investigate a $100-million industry that has made tiny, poverty-ridden Guatemala, with a population of about 12.7-million, the largest source of American babies after China.

After a monthslong investigation that began with the seizure of 46 babies from Casa Quivira in August, prosecutors say that they found fraud cloaking the true identities of at least nine children and that half their birth mothers couldn't be found.

The alleged fraud points to the problems with the flawed adoption system, which Guatemala replaced with a new one in January to comply with an international treaty to prevent human trafficking.

After intense lobbying by U.S. parents, most of the 2,900 pending U.S. adoptions will likely go forward, partly because Guatemala lacks the resources to fully investigate them. Parents of the 46 Casa Quivira babies, however, are stuck in the very nightmare they had hoped to avoid by spending at least $30,000 per child for hassle-free adoptions.

"I certainly wouldn't want to give Luciany back," said Mary Ball, the child's adoptive mother who lives west of Indianapolis. "She's our family. She's our daughter."

Prosecutors say the problems at Casa Quivira include illegal payments to at least one birth mother, stolen identities - including that of a child stillborn 22 years ago - and a mentally ill birth mother who was incapable of giving consent.

A Guatemalan judge said he would announce today whether to pursue a trial against Casa Quivira's attorney and notary. Prosecutors also have obtained an arrest warrant against the American owner, Clifford Phillips of Deland, and they want fresh DNA tests for all the babies, even those whose paperwork is apparently in order.

"Their rights to an identity are violated because if their mothers have no identity, neither do they," prosecutor Jaime Tecu told the judge.

Casa Quivira's notary and attorney were arrested on charges of illegally processing paperwork.

Phillips, who owns the agency with his Guatemalan wife, Sandra Gonzalez, a lawyer, has denied any responsibility for fraud. The couple have handled hundreds of adoptions since the agency opened in 1996, and outside adoption experts said their record was spotless.

Phillips said he has been made the "whipping boy" for a system in which corrupt officials have for years supplied and signed off on adoption documents.

"I have nothing to do with documents. I don't touch documents," Phillips said. "They want me to be responsible for making sure the process is not fraudulent? I'm not equipped to do that. I have faith that the Guatemalan attorneys did all they could to check it out."

Defense lawyers for Casa Quivira's attorney and notary, in turn, blamed birth mothers and others for fraud, telling the judge at the Monday hearing that they can't be responsible for confirming that the documents they present are legitimate.

But Solicitor General Mario Gordillo told the Associated Press that somebody had to have walked the women through the process of falsifying documents, and that Phillips and his lawyer and notary must be held to account.

"These biological mothers many times can't read nor write, much less falsify IDs or birth certificates," Gordillo said.

Thirty-six of the babies seized in the August raid are still being held at Casa Quivira. Ten more, including Luciany, are now in the United States, with families in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But their fate is uncertain.

If fraud is proven, Guatemala would invalidate the adoption and try to recover the child, even one who has become a U.S. citizen, Gordillo said.

Fast facts:

Adoptions soar

Guatemala's adoption system has delivered 29,400 children into U.S. homes since 1990 - so many that one in every 100 Guatemalan babies born each year was growing up in an American home.


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