'Baby Tamia' couple charged with drug felonies

Relates to:
Date: 2005-04-15

Tug of war: The state concludes the adoption agency did not act improperly

Kirsten Stewart
The Salt Lake Tribune

The Utah couple who lost an interstate tug of war over "Baby Tamia" have been charged with felony counts of drug possession and child endangerment.

Stephen Kusaba, 50, and Lenna Habbeshaw, 45, were arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine and marijuana on March 21 after undercover Salt Lake City narcotics officers and child welfare officials served a search warrant at their Salt Lake City home.

The girl they were attempting to adopt was removed that day.

On Thursday, the couple were charged with four felony counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and child endangerment -- with enhanced potential penalties due to their proximity to a school, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney spokesman Bob Stott. They also face charges for possessing drug paraphernalia, a Class B misdemeanor.

Kusaba and Habbeshaw's phone is unlisted and their lawyer was not immediately available.

State regulators have now decided the Utah adoption agency that placed "Baby Tamia" did not improperly screen the couple.

The embattled Midvale-based A Cherished Child Adoption Agency was ordered last month to return then- 6-month-old Baby Tamia to her biological mother in Chicago. The order was from an Illinois judge who overturned the adoption on an unrelated technicality after Kusaba and Habbeshaw were arrested.

Acting on an anonymous complaint, licensing officials audited A Cherished Child's files to see whether staff properly conducted background checks and home studies required of all prospective adoptive parents.

In her April 1 report, licensor Janice Knaphus states that while Kusaba's background check showed a history of drug use, a licensed clinical social worker hired by the agency determined "lifestyle choices he made in his early 20s" posed no risk to children. Two visits also indicated "the child and family [were] adjusting well."

Lawyers for A Cherished Child say the probe vindicates the agency.

"The agency did everything appropriately," said Salt Lake City attorney Derek Williams. "It turns out this couple was withholding information from everyone: the agency, state and investigative panel."

Agency director Ruby Johnston is still defending herself in Illinois where state officials have filed for an injunction barring her business from doing business there.


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