ADOPTION AGENCY IS CALLED A FRAUD

Date: 1996-09-13

Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)

A N.Y. JUDGE ISSUED A RESTRAINING ORDER ON THE PA. FIRM.
SOME SAID THEY PAID BUT GOT NO CHILDREN.

Author: Henry Goldman, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Dateline: NEW YORK

They wanted to be parents, and they paid thousands of dollars to Today's Adoption Agency, which they say promised speedy action on delivering newborn children from abroad.

Now the agency - some families say it took their money and did nothing - is accused by New York as a ``fraud'' and a ``ripoff.''

Yesterday, Dennis C. Vacco, New York's attorney general, used those terms to describe the Hawley, Pa., agency and then went to court in the name of would-be parents to stop the agency from operating. A judge issued a temporary restraining order and set a hearing for Thursday.

Today's Adoption has also come under scrutiny by Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare, which in November 1994 determined that the agency's license should not be renewed. A year later, after complaints persisted, the department formally revoked the license; the case is still pending.

At a Manhattan news conference yesterday, Vacco accused Today's Adoption of duping prospective parents into paying $10,000 or more for children from Paraguay, when the agency knew the country had shut its doors to foreign adoption. In one case, he said, a couple had paid more than $30,000 in fees and travel expenses. He said families received no refunds.

`ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES'

Yesterday's civil action against the agency came about seven months after officials at New York's Department of Social Services told the agency ``that it was engaging in illegal activities,'' Vacco said. ``Despite the warning, it persisted in these practices.''

When parents asked about the children, they were sent form letters informing them that the children ``were fine,'' and advising patience, according to the suit.

Aside from not finding children for those who wanted to adopt, Vacco said, Today's Adoption also misrepresented how much time it would take to complete an adoption, and coerced some families to sign up. Some children it did place came without adequate medical information. Some arrived seriously ill, and in one case, a child eventually died, he said.

The suit, filed on behalf of a dozen disappointed parents, seeks to stop all agency operations and to seize assets of the company and its individual directors - Patricia L. Zuvic, Denise S. Zuvic and Stanley B. Michelman. It also seeks refunds.

The court action was met with expressions of surprise by Denise Zuvic, who runs a satellite office in Fort Lee, N.J. She said the problem with the Paraguay moratorium, instituted in September 1995 for one year, was well-known to both agency officials and clients, and ``could change any day.''

`A DELICATE SITUATION'

Despite the moratorium, some children born before it went into effect have continued to arrive in the United States, she said. Four came in August and were placed by the agency, she said.

The New York action, she said, would only complicate what she described as ``a delicate situation'' involving Paraguayan authorities. ``I don't know what these people want,'' she said.

At least 100 families have applications pending with the agency, Zuvic said, about 25 in Pennsylvania. Other clients come from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. She said confidentiality laws forbid her to discuss individual cases.

In Pennsylvania, when Today's Adoption appealed the decision not to renew its license, Leonard E. Pocius, director of the Department of Public Welfare's Northeast Pennsylvania office of Children, Youth and Families, permitted it to operate while hearings went on. They were last held in July.

Yesterday, at the Manhattan news conference, Millie Collica of Nassau County, N.Y., tearfully described how she and her husband had picked out a photograph of a baby named Stephen, and had gone to Paraguay to visit him for six weeks, but were unable to return with him.

Jackie Raguso of Pound Ridge, N.Y., said she paid the agency $10,000 and was never told Paraguay had instituted a moratorium on international adoptions. She said her money had not been returned.

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