SCANDAL FORCES AGENCY TO EXIT

Date: 2004-05-22

Miami Herald, The (FL)
Author: CAROL MARBIN MILLER, cmarbin@herald.com

International Adoption Resource Inc., a Coral Springs adoption agency at the center of an international baby-smuggling investigation, has agreed to cease operations in Florida - permanently - as part of a settlement with state regulators filed in court Friday.

IAR's settlement with the Florida Department of Children & Families, worked out by the Attorney General's Office, requires the adoption agency to pay about $115,000 in restitution to families that were clients of the agency before regulators sought to shut it down last December.

The settlement also calls for IAR and the agency's director, Rebecca Thurmond, to pay $63,982 in restitution to ``affected'' families, and to pay another $50,518 into a restitution pool for families till trying to finalize adoptions initiated before the settlement was signed, records show. A separate agency was assigned to handle those pending adoptions when DCF stepped in.

A list of families already ``affected'' by IAR's actions, attached to the settlement, contains 17 names, including families living as close as Wilton Manors and Clearwater and as far away as Reno, Nev.; Portage, Ind.; Wayland, Iowa; and Johnson City, Tenn. The names of the families were deleted to protect their privacy.

A separate list of families who may be eligible for restitution within 12 months includes 26 names, many of them families also scattered across the United States, including Sparks, Nev.; Rochester, Minn.; Dudley, Mass.; and Austin, Texas.

STATE APPROVES

``The state is very satisfied with the outcome of the settlement, as a recognition of the heartbreak of many families that wanted to adopt children through International Adoption Resource,'' Jack Moss, DCF's district administrator in Broward County, said Friday.

``When we learned of International Adoption's activities, we acted expeditiously to guard the safety of, and protect, the children involved with this adoption agency,'' Moss added.

Although the settlement resolves IAR's disputes with state regulators, it does not stop federal regulators or officials from other countries from pursuing other investigations, Moss said. Moss said he did not know the details of other probes, if any are ongoing.

Michael B. Cohen, Thurmond's Fort Lauderdale attorney, did not return calls from a reporter seeking comment.

The six-page settlement agreement, signed Monday but filed in court Friday, forbids IAR or Thurmond from engaging in any adoption activities in Florida through any corporation, partnership, ``spouse,'' or ``business entity.''

IAR's troubles began in September, when Costa Rican government officials discovered nine Guatemalan babies living in a makeshift nursery in a middle-class San Jose neighborhood they believed was being used as a way station for infants being sent overseas for adoption.

The Costa Rican government sought to shut down what they described as a baby-smuggling ring, partly in an effort to avoid becoming embroiled in the kidnapping and child-trafficking scandals that had plagued Guatemala.

The next month, Thurmond submitted an application to DCF's Fort Lauderdale office to be relicensed. In the application, a man named Rolf Levy was listed under ``staff'' as an adoption consultant and program coordinator.

SMUGGLING ALLEGED

The application was still pending when, in December, the Costa Rican government issued an international arrest order for Levy, alleging he smuggled children bound for adoptive homes in the United States. Levy had been linked to as many as seven Social Security numbers and perhaps 20 different names, child welfare officials have said.

DCF first took action in December, suspending IAR from engaging in adoptions in Florida.

The next month, department officials filed an administrative complaint against IAR and Thurmond, seeking to permanently revoke the agency's license. The revocation was necessary, the complaint said, because Thurmond continued to broker adoptions even after DCF suspended her license.

In the administrative complaint, DCF said nine babies found at the Costa Rican home leased by Thurmond were alleged to have been ``kidnapped from their birth mothers'' in Guatemala, and were ``awaiting international adoptions'' when discovered during the September raid.

The complaint described IAR's actions as posing ``an immediate serious danger to the public health, safety or welfare of the children and potential adoptive families.''

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