Two women, lawyer accused of running baby-smuggling ring

Date: 1999-05-28

The Dallas Morning News
Author: David M. Halbfinger; New York Times News Service
Dateline: GARDEN CITY, N.Y.

, - Federal prosecutors Thursday accused two New York women and a prominent lawyer on the Arizona-Mexico border of running a baby-smuggling ring in which at least 17 Mexican infants were illegally sold to unwitting adoptive parents in the New York area for $20,000 or more.

Prosecutors said Arlene Lieberman and Arlene Reingold of Long Island lured desperate would-be parents with promises of safe, easy, legal adoptions.

But the adoptions turned out to be anything but legal, prosecutors say. The lawyer, Mario Reyes, forged birth certificates and consent forms, bribed Mexican officials to look the other way, and still ultimately failed to receive the necessary approvals from U.S. immigration officials, the authorities said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said on Thursday that the children would be allowed to remain with their adoptive parents and that the government would work to legalize their status.

Ms. Lieberman, 48, and Ms. Reingold, 46, who live a few doors from each other in a middle-class neighborhood in Medford, N.Y., were arrested on Thursday morning at their homes, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York. Mr. Reyes, 40, a dual citizen who practices law in Agua Prieta, Mexico, less than 100 feet from the border with Douglas, Ariz., was arrested at his home in Douglas on Wednesday.

The three are charged with conspiring to violate various immigration laws and to commit mail and wire fraud. They face maximum prison sentences of up to 10 years for each child smuggled into the United States. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors have not yet determined whether the 17 children brought through Agua Prieta, one of the chief smuggling points along the Mexican border, were stolen from their families, turned over for adoption voluntarily or sold by one or both of their parents. Selling children is a crime in Mexico.

Young, single women

However, the Mexican border region may have been the source for some of the children. Clustered around border towns are dozens of maquiladoras , or assembly plants. Most of the workers in these plants are young, single Mexican women. And recent investigation by the U.S. Department found that some plants actively discourage their employees from having children, routinely subject women applicants to pregnancy tests and deny them jobs if the tests are positive.

State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer filed a civil lawsuit on Thursday against Mr. Reyes, the two women and their husbands, and their company, International Adoption Consultants, seeking to permanently bar them from the business of adoption placements.

Federal and state court papers assert that Ms. Lieberman and Ms. Reingold went into business in 1990 under the name Stork International, ostensibly to provide information and referrals only. But after state officials received repeated complaints that they were running an unlicensed adoption agency, the two formed a second company, Adoption Choice, in 1992, and then a third, International Adoption Consultants, in 1996.

The companies were never licensed as adoption agencies, yet prosecutors say they continued to place place children with adoptive parents.

Ms. Lieberman and Ms. Reingold have assisted in more than 500 international adoptions since 1990, according to a 66-page affidavit released by the U.S. attorney's office. Not all of the children adopted through the agencies were smuggled, however.

Before contacting Mr. Reyes and focusing on Mexican children, the two women brokered adoptions of children from Guatemala, Paraguay and other countries, in accordance with Immigration and Naturalization Service rules, the federal court papers say.

Only the placements of the 17 babies smuggled from Mexico are under federal scrutiny.

In those cases, according to the federal affidavit, the three charged would-be parents as much as $22,000, plus thousands more in consulting fees, travel and translation expenses.

One parent told investigators that he had asked for a reduction in the fee, but was told by one of the women that Mr. Reyes had responded: "I am not Monty Hall and this is not Let's Make a Deal. "

Shocking discoveries

The federal affidavit paints the two Long Island women in no less callous terms. Another parent attempting to adopt a baby recounted how the girl had arrived in New York gravely ill, the apparent victim of sexual abuse: "Her eyes did not focus, she smelled terribly, her stomach was markedly distended and she appeared to have no neck," she said, according to the affidavit.

The distraught adoptive parent called Ms. Reingold, "who said that there was nothing wrong with the girl: All she needed was a little love and good food," the affidavit said.

Several of the adoptive parents, who the authorities say were duped by the three defendants, said they had been emotionally devastated by the experience. Rosalie Liberto, who adopted a daughter, Gabriel, in July 1997, said she did not learn that her daughter, now 51/2, had entered the country illegally until nearly a year later. "We about died," she said.

"We were petrified that the government would take her away from us," she said.


Pound Pup Legacy