Alleging fraud, state moves to close adoption agency

Date: 2002-11-20

St. Petersburg Times

With parents telling heartbreaking stories about troubled adoptions from Vietnam, the state is moving to yank the license of an adoption agency near Jacksonville.

Tedi Bear Adoptions in Neptune Beach is in the midst of an international adoption mess. In at least two cases, families who had adopted Vietnamese children were shocked to learn that their children were being offered to other families.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Children and Families filed an administrative complaint against Tedi Bear, the first step toward revoking its license. The complaint alleges several instances of fraud.

Tedi Bear has the right to appeal, and keep its doors open until that appeal is settled. No officials from Tedi Bear were available for comment Tuesday, and it is unclear whether the state's action will leave any international adoptions in limbo.

Tom Ceci, the DCF official who signed the state's complaint, said it is "very rare" for the state to take such action.

But the complaints against Tedi Bear have mounted since September, when the St. Petersburg Times chronicled complaints of troubled adoptions from Vietnam. Tedi Bear immediately suspended its Vietnam adoption program, but continued to handle adoptions in other countries.

DCF inspectors made a surprise visit at Tedi Bear in October, and spent two days combing through files, said DCF spokeswoman Beverly Keneagy.

The state's complaint accuses Tedi Bear of breaking the law by offering the same child to different families and charging an unauthorized "networking fee" when it worked with other adoption agencies to place children. The complaint also says Tedi Bear's executive director, Tedi Hedstrom, falsified paperwork and claimed to have a social work degree she didn't have.

"Ms. Hedstrom does not possess the educational credentials for being the executive director of a child-placing agency," the DCF's complaint said.

Other workers who directed international adoption programs for Tedi Bear didn't have college degrees as required by law, the complaint says.

DCF isn't the only government agency investigating Tedi Bear. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is also looking into complaints from families who say they went to Vietnam to pick up a particular child, only to be told that the child was no longer available. The families were asked to give more money. Some say they lost thousands of dollars.

The INS investigation centers on Mai-Ly LaTrace, a 29-year-old Vietnamese-American woman who is a "facilitator" arranging adoptions in Vietnam, and her mother, Marie LaTrace. Tedi Bear paid the LaTraces to arrange adoptions.

Sue Alves, of Massachusetts, was supposed to adopt a baby girl in 1998 through Tedi Bear, but backed out after the child's supposed "foster mother" cried continuously through their two-hour meeting. Alves suspected that the "foster mother" was really the child's birth mother. Alves says she felt deceived by Mai-Ly LaTrace.

"I think it's wonderful that the state of Florida reacted quickly when the information was given to them," said Alves. But, she said "The LaTraces are still out there functioning in Vietnam. We still have more of a fight."

In Boston, a woman named Carrie West was giving money to build "The Home for Thuy," an orphanage that Mai-Ly LaTrace and Tedi Hedstrom said was going to be built to house Thuy, a supposedly deathly ill little girl. West paid money to adopt Thuy, but was told the girl was too sick. It turned out that Thuy wasn't sick at all. In fact, she didn't even live in Vietnam and had been adopted earlier by another family living in the South Pacific island of Saipan.

West contacted Thuy's adoptive mother, Judy Mosely, and the two women set up a "sting" over the Internet. Mosely posed as a woman wanting to adopt a little Vietnamese girl. She was shocked when she received a picture of her own daughter.


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