Date: 1999-06-02

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)
Author: Graciela Sevilla and Kathleen Ingley, The Arizona Republic
Dateline: TUCSON

Mario Reyes, accused of leading an illegal adoption ring that smuggled 17 Mexican babies to couples in New York, was ordered Tuesday to face charges in a federal court in Brooklyn.

Reyes was flanked by three rows of sobbing relatives and friends as U.S. Magistrate Nancy Fiora ordered him transferred from Arizona to New York. Fiora postponed a decision on bail for Reyes, who made his first public appearance since his arrest at his Douglas home last week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Yarbrough argued against granting Reyes bail because his close ties to Mexico make him a flight risk.

But Reyes' attorney, Ivan Abrams, said Mexico would be the last place Reyes would run because the Mexican federal attorney's office has issued a warrant for Reyes's arrest on charges connected with the adoption operation.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, these are stomach-churning days for Sara and David Kruchkow of Flushing, N.Y., who fear the child they adopted from Mexico more than a year ago may be taken from them.

''I'm extremely worried, finding it hard to concentrate at work, that's for sure,'' said Sara, 48. ''We will not be relieved, we will not be relaxed until this is all resolved and we know we can keep our daughter.''

The couple already has been through an emotional wringer. He's a car salesman and she's an administrative assistant for a textile company. They started trying to adopt in 1995, hoping for a toddler, a little girl. Twice, the adoption group told the couple there was a child available, only to dash their hopes a few months later.

By then, David was suspicious and fed up. But the group said there was another child, available immediately.

''They were pretty much dangling the carrot in front of me,'' Sara Kruchkow recalled. She declined to discuss details of the adoption, on the advice of her lawyer.

She's happy to tell how delighted the Kruchkows were a year and a half ago, when they met a bright 20-month-old girl with a sense of humor.

They named her Shelly, and ''she took to us immediately,'' Kruchkow said.

Some of the children in the Mexican adoption scheme had severe health problems, and Shelly suffers from asthma. But the Kruchkows are hoping she outgrows it.

A few things about her new life in New York startled the little girl at first.

''When she saw running water, she started screaming and jumping up and down and saying, 'Agua, agua,' so evidently where she was there wasn't running water,'' Kruchkow said.

After figuring in the travel costs, the couple spent around $30,000 on the adoption, she estimated.

They also spent two years researching adoption options. Kruchkow's advice to anyone looking to adopt is to go further: ''Do your research, and when you think you've done enough, do some more.''

Kruchkow said she's had no communication yet from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service about the status of her daughter, who is 3 years old.

She remembers the persuasive words of the adoption agents when she was hesitating whether to go through with it: ''This is the child you were meant to have.''

Now, she said, ''My biggest fear is I'm not going to be able to keep the child I was meant to have.''

That, in part, will all depend on how the prosecution of Reyes plays out.

In U.S. District Court in Tucson, Reyes' attorney described him as a devout Catholic who obtained a law degree at the University of Guadalajara, in part, through a thesis advocating adoptions as an alternative to abortions.

The attorney, Abrams, also argued that Reyes has been cooperative with federal prosecutors. Reyes, a once-prominent Douglas businessman who recently filed for bankruptcy, contacted U.S. authorities as soon as he discovered he was under investigation, Abrams said. Reyes voluntarily sat for seven hours of questioning on May 3 in which he ''cooperated fully and answered every question,'' the attorney said.

Because of that cooperation, Reyes was shocked when police arrested him last Wednesday. He has since been confined to a federal prison in Florence.

Meanwhile, two women from New York, Arlene Lieberman and Arlene Reingold, also arrested last week, have been released on bail of $150,000 each. They and Reyes are accused in a federal indictment of illegally arranging as many as 17 adoptions during the past decade.

According to U.S. and Mexican officials, Reyes would find children in Mexico that the two women would offer for adoption to couples in New York for as much as $22,000 per child. The babies were smuggled across the border by women posing as their mothers.

In October, Margarita Soto, an employee of Reyes, was arrested by Mexican police in Agua Prieta, just across the border from Douglas. She was charged with trafficking in children after attempting to take a baby across the border into the U.S.


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