Woman accused of trying to sell child via Internet

Relates to:
Date: 1999-05-26

Couple in Burleson alerted Colorado sheriff after e-mails

Mark Wrolstad
The Dallas Morning News

Child-selling charges were filed Tuesday against a Colorado woman who investigators said offered her newly adopted 8-year-old daughter to a Burleson couple via the Internet.

Officials said it could be the first prosecution for such a crime committed by computer.

The Burleson couple, whose names haven't been released, called the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office in Littleton, Colo., on Friday after exchanging e-mails with Denise K. Thomas about payment.

The girl, named Elena, was adopted four months ago from Russia and has an emotional-attachment disorder, according to her adoptive parents. The girl's 10-year-old sister also was adopted and lives in Mississippi, authorities said.

Mrs. Thomas, 42, and her husband, Peter, 50, have said she wasn't trying to sell the child but was seeking reimbursement for some adoption expenses, which exceeded $13,000.

Investigators said the woman wanted $4,000 for the girl, plus air fare to get her to Texas, under the pretense of a private adoption.

"You can't sell a child, and that's exactly what she was trying to do," Undersheriff Grayson Robinson said. "She was trying to avoid the bureaucracy and the inconvenience of the adoption process."

During their electronic conversation, the Burleson couple told Mrs. Thomas that what she was doing was a felony in Texas, Undersheriff Robinson said. She allegedly responded, "This is the way to avoid the attorney's fees . . . You must really be naive."

Undersheriff Robinson said he didn't know exactly how or when the couple found Mrs. Thomas on the Internet, or if they want a child.

Mrs. Thomas was arrested and booked Friday, then released. She was charged Tuesday with "criminal attempt trafficking in children," a Class 4 felony in Colorado carrying a prison term of up to eight years.

Investigators confiscated her home computer and are looking at other communications she had.

Burleson police are contacting Colorado authorities about the case but may have nothing to pursue, Capt. Doug Sandifer said Tuesday.

"On the face of it, the offense looks like it occurred in Colorado," he said, adding that the vastness of the Internet has opened the way for criminal offenses.

Mrs. Thomas said Monday that she only wanted to find the right home for the troubled girl.

"I had no intention of selling a child or anything like that," she said. "We realized that it just wasn't going to work out here for her. It was a mistake, a tragic mistake."

Mr. Thomas, who hasn't been charged, defended his wife, saying the girl's emotional detachment nearly destroyed the family after their 18-month ordeal to gain a daughter. Their 14-year-old biological son remains in their home.

"We have tried and tried and tried to love this girl," Mr. Thomas said. "My wife's emotional reserves eventually ran out. She decided for her own health and long-term benefit of Elena, she was going to have to relinquish her.

"If she mentioned money she was thinking about reimbursement of expenses."

It's illegal in most states, including Texas, for an adoptive parent to pay for anything more than medical, legal and some pregnancy-related expenses, said Heidi Cox, general counsel for Fort Worth's Gladney Center, one of the nation's oldest and largest adoption agencies.

Ms. Cox said this doesn't sound like a child-selling case, which typically involves "nothing less than $10,000."

"I think she was desperate. The whole thing is unfortunate," Ms. Cox said. "She made a very poor decision, no doubt . . . . She should have asked a professional for help."

Marshall Williams, Gladney's head of international adoptions, called baby-selling allegations "the worst thing that can happen." Word of the Colorado case is certain to reach Russia and could temporarily slow or halt adoptions there, he said.

Undersheriff Robinson said $4,000 might seem insignificant compared to the Thomases' overall expenses.

"But this isn't a business, it's a child," he said. "The bottom line is she was going to gain some benefit from removing the child and that's in the statute."

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