ADOPTION HEARTACHE LEADS TO CHARGES
Detroit Free Press (MI)
ADOPTION HEARTACHE LEADS TO CHARGES
AGENCY MADE EMPTY PROMISES, LEFT EMPTY ARMS, COUPLES SAY
Author: STEVE NEAVLING and DAN CORTEZ; FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
Jamyson was going to be the first child for Amanda and Reece Heinrich, and they prepared as any expecting couple would.
Amanda painted nature-themed murals on the walls of the nursery. A friend built a rocker engraved with Jamyson's name. And since they were adopting, photographs of Jamyson were tucked in their wallets, displayed on their walls and proudly handed out to friends.
"We just wanted somebody to call us Mom and Dad," Amanda Heinrich, 39, of Holt, said Friday.
But the child never came.
The Heinrichs and at least five other couples, including one other in Michigan, were swindled out of up to $30,000 apiece for Guatemalan babies through Waiting Angels Adoption Agency of Macomb Township, according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. The agency, Cox says, preyed on vulnerable couples by promising to arrange adoptions that never happened.
More victims may emerge, prosecutors said.
The agency's owners, Simone Boraggina, 40, of Macomb Township and Joseph Beauvais, 44, of Novi, were arraigned Thursday in 41A District Court in Shelby Township on felony counts of racketeering and tax fraud. Police seized $523,700 from safety deposit boxes in the owners' homes - money prosecutors believe the pair bilked from couples who wanted to become adoptive parents.
The owners were released on a $250,000 bond and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Their attorney didn't return calls seeking comment.
"The defendants took advantage of the emotional connection that people invest in the adoption process in order to obtain money without ever delivering services," Cox spokesman Matt Frendewey said. "The prospective parents were given excuse after excuse."
Cox alleges the agency strung along the couples since 2005, blaming paperwork and the Guatemalan government on persistent delays in the adoption process.
The owners "are predators," said attorney Joni Marie Fixel of East Lansing, who represents the Holt couple. "I don't know who is more vulnerable than people who want to be parents. It breaks my heart."
The Michigan couples and four others in Minnesota, Alabama, California and New York filed a civil suit against the agency's operators in October 2006, but the case is on hold pending criminal proceedings.
The Heinrichs found the agency online and began the adoption process in March 2005. They chose the agency because they wanted a Guatemalan baby and thought they'd have a smoother adoption with a local company.
There were phone calls and e-mails, but the couple never met the owners. In June 2005, they used a home equity loan to wire the agency $12,000. Communication slowed.
By December 2006, after they had spent more than $23,000, they again were told they'd have to wait. They became suspicious and started researching the company online. That's when they found someone who'd used the agency and had similar problems.
Now, with no baby, the nursery the Heinrichs labored over sits unused behind a door that they don't plan to reopen.
"It's really hard to trust anybody," Amanda Heinrich said. "It's changed us as people."
Couples who think they've been scammed can call the Attorney General's Office at 877-765-8388.
How to avoid adoption scams
Adoption scams could cost your family tens of thousands of dollars. Here are some tips:
*Avoid agencies that are offering deals that seem too good to be true. That might include extremely low prices or short wait times. Ask questions and be assertive.
*Consult with an attorney or adoption professional before turning over money to anyone. Some agencies will promise information about babies up for adoption in exchange for several hundred dollars. Check with professionals before sending money.
*Research the adoption agency that you are dealing with. Ask for references, check with the Better Business Bureau and read every contract thoroughly before signing. If the agency is reputable, it will be more than happy to put you in touch with past clients who had successful adoptions.
Contact STEVE NEAVLING at 586-469-4935 or email@example.com.
CAPTION: Jamyson, the baby the Heinrichs thought they were adopting
CAPTIONWRITER: Family photo