The Record (New Jersey)
FIRM OPERATES IN FORT LEE
Author: By SAMUEL MAULL, The Associated Press; Wire services
Dateline: NEW YORK
A Manhattan judge Wednesday suspended most of the operations of an adoption agency that the state Attorney General's Office accused of cheating hopeful, and sometimes desperate, would-be parents.
State Supreme Court Justice Carol Arber curtailed Today's Adoption Agency pending the outcome of a trial on the state's charges. Arber said the agency may not solicit new business or collect more fees from current clients.
Attorney General Dennis Vacco's suit said the agency collected up to $30,000 from families for a child, usually foreign-born, but often never provided one. In many cases, the promised child did not exist.
Arber said a hearing in October showed the emotional toll and irreparable harm suffered by the families involved in failed adoptions. The judge said TAA may process only cases already in the "pipeline."
"As demonstrated at the hearing, defendants (TAA) do not provide the services that prospective adoptive parents contract for," Arber wrote in a 30-page decision. "Parents are given pictures of `their' child and little else in exchange for large sums of money."
The judge wrote that Patricia Zuvic, TAA's executive director, "testified that she was aware of the vulnerability of her clients and instead of responding to their needs, she capitalized on them."
Speaking to reporters outside the October hearing, Zuvic denied that she had defrauded anyone. She said problems arose because of unstable governments and officials in the children's native countries chiefly Paraguay, Chile, and Guatemala.
Arber cited Mark Frankel, who testified that he had paid TAA $9,600. Frankel said Zuvic gave him a snapshot and a promise that the adoption of his child would be final in Paraguay within six weeks.
Frankel testified that he learned in January 1996 that Paraguay had stopped foreign adoptions, and when he confronted Zuvic the next month in her New Jersey office, she said she had no proof that his assigned child existed.
The judge said Jacalyn Raguso canceled a donor egg procedure and paid $9,650 to TAA for a Paraguayan child she never received. The American Embassy in Paraguay told Raguso that the lawyer TAA supposedly assigned to her case had never heard of her or the child, Arber said.
TAA is a Pennsylvania corporation that has been authorized to operate in New York since Dec. 18, 1990. The agency once had an office in Port Jervis, N.Y., but that office closed in early 1996.
The agency's lawyer, Larry Gerzog, could not be reached for comment. An answering machine responded at TAA's headquarters in Hawley, Pa.
During the October hearing, more than 100 people crowded Arber's courtroom. They included some who had babies from Central America and were waiting to bring them here, others who wanted to finalize the adoption of a baby already here, and some who suspected that they had been cheated by TAA.
Stanley B. Michelman, director of TAA's office in Fort Lee and a defendant in the lawsuit, is a lawyer who was suspended from practice in 1994 for improper adoption activities, said Vacco's spokeswoman, Jennifer Farina.
Arber said in a footnote that Michelman had not appeared or sent an answer in response to the lawsuit and therefore was in defaul