Coral Springs, Fla., Agency's Role in Baby Adoptions Scrutinized

Date: 2003-12-25

Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News
Author: Jon Burstein, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Dec. 25 The Florida Attorney General's Office launched an investigation this week into whether a Coral Springs-based adoption agency linked to an inquiry into international baby trafficking may have engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices.

Authorities served four subpoenas Tuesday to obtain records from International Adoption Resource, Inc.'s office, its executive director, a company employee and a Bradenton business currently handling the embattled adoption agency's clients, said JoAnn Carrin, spokeswoman for Attorney General Charlie Crist. In addition, both executive director Rebecca Thurmond and her assistant, Joy Shasky Graw, have been asked to appear before the Attorney General's Office on Jan. 13 to answer questions about IAR.

Carrin said the subpoenas are part of a civil inquiry initiated at the request of the Department of Children & Families, which suspended IAR's operating license on Dec. 5. On the same day the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that a key company employee, Rolf Levy, is wanted in Costa Rica on an international arrest warrant for trafficking in minors. Levy, who worked as the agency's international adoption coordinator, has denied any wrongdoing.

DCF has accused Levy and Thurmond of lying to state officials about the company's business ties with a jailed Costa Rican attorney. The attorney's name surfaced in September when police in San Jose, Costa Rica, discovered nine Guatemalan babies inside a house they feared was being used by an illegal adoption ring.

One of IAR's attorneys, Cheryl Eisen, has acknowledged that the adoption agency leased the house, which was used to house Guatemalan women who wanted to put their babies up for adoption, bypassing a halt on overseas adoptions in their own country. Eisen insists that the arrangement was legal under Costa Rican law.

The adoption agency has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing by either Costa Rica or U.S. officials.

The subpoena served on IAR asks for an array of records, including all of the company's documents related to adoptions it helped arrange in Central America. The Attorney General's Office specifically asked for copies of IAR's contracts with agencies or people used to help facilitate such adoptions.

Carrin declined to comment on what specific accusations against the company are being examined by the Attorney General's Office. The subpoenas only state that authorities are investigating whether the company's advertising and business practices violate the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the state's chief consumer protection law.

Jack L. Moss, the DCF's district administrator in Broward County, said his agency contacted the Attorney General's Office to get its help in obtaining records to determine whether IAR's license should be reinstated or revoked. The adoption agency's current license expires Jan. 16.

Thurmond's new attorney said Wednesday that he believes she ultimately will be vindicated of all the allegations swirling around her agency.

"She's done nothing wrong whatsoever," said Michael B. Cohen, who also is representing IAR. "Her whole background and history has been sterling ... We're very eager to sort this out because she's a very fine woman."

He said that if Levy was breaking any laws, Thurmond wasn't aware of it. The adoption agency told DCF two weeks ago that it has "severed all connection" with Levy. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Thurmond's assistant, Graw, also could not be reached for comment.

IAR and the adoption agency, Family Creations Inc., have until Jan. 9 to comply with the subpoenas. Family Creations agreed last week to take over the case files of IAR's 63 clients and is paying Thurmond as a consultant.

Eisen, who is also representing Family Creations Inc., said the Gulf Coast business plans to turn over the requested documents as soon as possible.

Cohen said IAR intends to produce the records "under the appropriate circumstances."

0

Pound Pup Legacy