Adoptive parents of 'Tamia' arrested

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-22

Drug warrant: A 2-state tug of war over her custody takes a new twist; Parents arrested on drug warrant

Kirsten Stewart and Lisa Rosetta
The Salt Lake Tribune

The escalating interstate adoption dispute over "Baby Tamia" has taken a bizarre twist with the arrest of the Chicago girl's adoptive parents, who have a history of drug offenses.

Stephen Kusaba, 50, and Lenna Habbeshaw, 45, were arrested Thursday night after undercover narcotics detectives served a search warrant at their Salt Lake City home.

The baby -- whom Kusaba and Habbeshaw adopted from a Chicago woman through a Utah-based adoption agency -- was taken into state custody. A hearing on the baby's status was scheduled for today.

Police spokesman Dwayne Baird said detectives -- tipped off to the couple's alleged drug activities -- found cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia in plain sight in their home.

Kusaba and Habbeshaw were booked into the Salt Lake County jail on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and child endangerment.

The offenses could be elevated to a felony because the couple's home, at 1438 S. 1500 East, is within 1,000 feet of a school, Baird said.

The pair were released Friday to the supervision of the state office of Pre-trial Services.

The Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) took the baby into protective custody. After a hearing this afternoon, Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak will decide whether removing the child from the home of Kusaba and Habbeshaw was justified.

Lawyers for the birth mother, Carmen McDonald, who along with the maternal grandmother filed a lawsuit in Illinois seeking Baby Tamia's return, said the arrest is further proof that the adoption was fraudulent.

"This whole case is a symptom of what's wrong with the [interstate] adoption system. It's time for the U.S. Congress to step in and for Utah officials to take action," said Chicago attorney Robert Fioretti.

The McDonalds allege that Carmen, who has a history of mental illness, was suffering from post-partum depression when she flew to Utah to put her baby up for adoption in December. They say staff from the Midvale-based A Cherished Child Adoption Agency threatened and coerced her into surrendering the baby.

Ruby Johnston, director of A Cherished Child, did not return The Salt Lake Tribune's telephone calls on Monday.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols said she will recommend that Baby Tamia remain in DCFS custody until an Illinois judge settles the adoption dispute.

Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Murphy is expected to decide the baby's fate Wednesday following his ruling last week that A Cherished Child violated the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children.

"We assume our court will defer to them and will probably set a specified amount of time for Illinois to enter an order," Nichols said. "The issue is what's in the best interest of the child."

Fioretti says A Cherished Child staff has paid no heed to the baby's best interests -- a problem exacerbated by Utah's adoption-friendly laws and laissez faire regulatory environ- ment.

"We're talking about the dark side of adoptions and Utah being an adoption warehouse state," said Fioretti, questioning why the agency failed to discover that the adoptive parents have a criminal history.

In May 1990, Kusaba and Habbeshaw were charged in Davis County with seven felonies, including drug manufacturing, possession with intent to distribute and failure to pay a drug stamp tax.

A year later, after his case was transferred to Salt Lake County, Kusaba resolved it by pleading guilty to two class A misdemeanor drug counts. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service and pay a $400 fine.

Court records fail to show what happened to Habbeshaw's case after it was transferred from Davis County to Salt Lake County.

"Are they [A Cherished Child] doing this just for profit?" asked Fioretti. "What were the parents going to tell the baby, that 'your mother and grandmother fought to get you back and we said no?' Do we have to wait 10 to 15 years to get an answer to that question?"

kstewart@sltrib.com

Tribune reporters Stephen Hunt and Michael N. Westley contributed to this story.

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