ADOPT 'RIP-OFF' HIT

Date: 1996-09-13

New York Daily News (NY)

ADOPT 'RIP-OFF' HIT
COUPLES PAID & GOT NO BABIES, STATE SEZ

Author: RUSS BUETTNER

A private adoption agency bilked at least a dozen families who hoped to adopt babies, leaving the prospective parents childless and defrauding them of as much as $30,000 each, state officials charged yesterday.

State Attorney General Dennis Vacco got a court order that temporarily closes Today's Adoption Agency and freezes the Pennsylvania-based company's assets.

Vacco said he will use a lawsuit he filed against the firm yesterday as a means to gain reimbursement for families "that were left with nothing but broken hearts."

"This is the worst type of rip-off that I could think about, because it combines the horrors of losing hard-earned dollars with a heartbreak that will never go away," Vacco said.

State officials are conducting a criminal investigation of the company, which allegedly charged families thousands of dollars in "placement fees" for international adoptions without delivering any babies.

Millie and Michael Collica said they spent six weeks in Paraguay last year with a baby boy they said employes at Today's Adoption Agency promised would soon be theirs.

But $10,000 and painful months later, the anguished Long Island couple has been unable to adopt the infant they planned to name Steven.

"I had hoped and prayed that one day he would be home with us," a tearful Millie Collica said yesterday.

The adoption agency's directors include Stanley Michelman, a nationally known lawyer who in 1994 was hit with a three-year suspension from practice in New York. He was charged with representing both biological and adoptive parents in two adoptions.

The agency, which serves the metropolitan region through offices in Port Jervis, N.Y., is headed by Denise and Patricia Zuvic. They were named as defendants in the lawsuit with Michelman. The three did not return calls seeking comment.

Investigators charged that the agencies scammed the Collicas and other unsuspecting families by promising to arrange adoptions of infants, most often from Paraguay, within as little as three months.

Vacco, labeling that timetable ridiculous, said the agency continued to promise the adoptions even after Paraguay imposed a moratorium on foreign adoptions in September 1995.

The agency gave the families pictures of infants, and even arranged trips for the Collicas and other couples to see babies, Vacco said.

One family named as victims in the suit filed by Vacco did adopt a baby through the agency. But the infant was seriously ill and died a short time later.

International adoptions have increased in recent years, in part because countries outside the U.S. often have more parents willing to place newborns with adoptive families.

Today's Adoption Agency, which has fewer than a dozen employes, says it has arranged more than 1,000 private adoptions since 1988, investigators said.

Assistant Attorney General Judith Kramer said the agency legitimately arranged adoptions for several years. "Then they went sour. They got greedy," Kramer said.

Caption:
DAVID HANDSCHUH DAILY NEWS VICTIMS of alleged scam: Millie Collica (l., with photo of baby she says she was promised but never got) and Linda Yarosh.

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