Teen's complaint leads to arrests at adoption agency

Relates to:
Date: 2002-09-19

By JAMES KIMBERLY
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

The advertisement in the popular Mexican tabloid must have seemed a godsend to the pregnant 16-year-old from suburban Mexico City.

"Pregnant?" it asked from the pages of Fama, a celebrity-oriented tabloid with national distribution. Illustrated with the image of an anguished young woman, it implored readers to "give the opportunity to other loving parents who want to adopt."

But calling the provided telephone number only brought the teenager more trouble.

The became the victim of an illegal smuggling ring in Laredo that sneaked her -- and possibly hundreds of other young women -- across the Rio Grande and then tried to take her baby by force, authorities said.

Daniel Hernandez Joseph, Mexican consul in Laredo, said people associated with the Laredo office of the AAA-Alamo Adoption Agency threatened the when she told them from her hospital bed that she had changed her mind and no longer wanted to give up her baby.

"She was being told things," Hernandez Joseph said. " `Sorry, you signed already. It is not an option.' "

The investigation that was launched shortly after the girl complained to the Mexican consul culminated Monday with the arrest of three people.

Maria Dolores Bondoc, 53, was charged in U.S. federal court with harboring undocumented immigrants and conspiring to cross the border illegally. She also faces three state charges of sale or purchase of a child.

Two of Bondoc's daughters also were arrested during pre-dawn raids by the U.S. Border Patrol and Webb County sheriff's deputies at Bondoc's house and four houses owned by her children.

Bondoc's daughter, Alda Mae Nishiyama, 33, also was charged with harboring an undocumented immigrant. Another daughter, Zenia Bondoc, 23, was arrested for possession.

Authorities said the ring worked like this:

Women who responded to the ad were instructed to get to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. There, they would meet with someone associated with Bondoc and be smuggled across the river, usually in an inner tube.

Once in Laredo, the women would stay in Bondoc's home until they delivered their babies. Then they would be convinced by whatever means necessary to give their babies up for adoption.

The victims were women in their 20s, educated, middle class, Hernandez Joseph said.

"They are in the situation, `I don't want my family or the people around me to know I got pregnant,' " he said.

Roberto Balli, Webb County first assistant district attorney, said the crime was a first for Laredo.

"We have not seen anything like this," Balli said.

Investigators are studying documents seized from the adoption agency to determine the scope of the smuggling ring.

Authorities know of at least seven young women, six from Mexico and one from Honduras, who were brought to the country illegally to have their babies and who complained they were pressured to give them up.

Balli said the number of victims could climb to "dozens, if not hundreds."

Balli said authorities do not believe any of the adoptive families knew of the circumstances surrounding the delivery of the babies. But that probably would not be a defense if any of the Mexican women filed complaints in court seeking to reclaim their children.

"Based on the practices of this adoption agency, there could be a possibility that some of these adoptions could be invalidated," Balli said.

AAA-Alamo Adoption Agency is headquartered in San Antonio and is properly licensed by the state, said Geoff Wool, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. But this is not the first time the company has been accused of breaking state adoption regulations, Wool said.

During a routine annual inspection in 1998, AAA was cited for 17 violations of the state adoption codes, including several allegations that improper payments had been made to birth mothers in Laredo, Wool said.

After the citation, AAA was monitored more closely. The agency underwent three inspections the following year.

In April, the agency was again cited for not complying with state adoption regulations, Wool said. This time it was for not properly educating all parties about adoption procedures, Wool said.

No one at AAA would answer questions about the arrests Wednesday. The agency referred questions to a San Antonio attorney who did not respond to messages left with his office.

Bodoc's attorney, David Almaraz, told the Associated Press that his client would plead to the charges.

"There are two sides to every story," Almaraz said. "Obviously, there was a reason for those people to come over, and we are denying that this was done for profit."

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