`JUST ANOTHER PARAGUAYAN ADOPTION'
St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
ONE COUPLE'S HAPPY ENDING CAN'T ERASE THEIR ADOPTION ORDEAL
Author: BYLINE: David Shaffer, Staff Writer
Dan Rierson says he still remembers the words: ``No problem.''
That's what baby finder Dawn Bonn told him 18 months ago when he and his wife, Cindy, inquired about adopting two children from Paraguay, Rierson said.
But their adoption became an emotional rollercoaster the Riersons say began with optimistic promises, evolved into frustrating waits, a threat and misrepresentations - and ended last month with two beautiful children.
The Roseville couple blame the problems on Bonn, who runs a private business from her home in North St. Paul, finding foreign-born babies for U.S. citizens.
Bonn's only comment on the Riersons' year-long experience was, ``It was just a Paraguay adoption. There can be major delays. It's too bad it happened.''
In March, 1994, when they approached Bonn and another adoption agency, th couple already had two biological children and hoped to adopt more. They said Bonn told them she could find them two children.
``We have always wanted a large family,'' said Cindy Rierson.
Six months went by. ``She never called us,'' said Cindy Rierson, who said she called Bonn once a month. ``We gave up in September.''
Then, shortly before Thanksgiving that year, the couple said they got a call from Bonn, who reported she had located a 4-year-old girl. According to the Riersons, Bonn insisted they make a decision on the adoption right away.
By then, good things had happened for the couple. They had completed an open adoption of a boy, Michael, in the United States through another agency. Cindy Rierson also learned she was pregnant.
The Riersons, still hoping for a big family, agreed to adopt the child Bonn had found. They also encouraged her to keep looking for another child.
At first, the Riersons said, Bonn told them the girl could be brought to the United States by April. So the couple went ahead with the adoption paperwork, including a home study.
``We kept calling and asking, `When is it going to be?''' said Cindy Rierson. ``They (Dawn Bonn and Associates) would never call us back.''
Not until April - when they had hoped to complete the adoption - did Bonn arrange for Dan Rierson to fly to Paraguay to begin the adoption proceedings, the couple said. It was a disappointment, but the good news was that Bonn already had found them a second child, a 5-month-old girl.
It would take another six months to get the children home. Along the way, the Riersons said, they began to question the process.
For example, they said, Bonn initially told them it would no problem for Cindy Rierson to stay home while her husband went to Paraguay for the adoption. Rierson didn't want to travel because she feared medical complications with her pregnancy.
According to the Riersons, Bonn later changed her story and instructed them to lie about the pregnancy. Dan Rierson said Bonn told him ``to tell anyone who asks'' that his wife didn't like to fly.
``We felt we had no choice,'' said Cindy Rierson. ``We had thousands and thousands of dollars tied up in this and now it is hinging on a lie.''
Bonn denied urging the couple to lie. She said nobody would have asked about the issue. Indeed, the Riersons said, nobody did.
The couple said Bonn last summer offered optimistic assurances that the final adoption papers would be signed soon, and Dan Rierson could return to Paraguay for the children. Later, she told them the papers would be signed by Oct. 4, 1995, the couple said.
``It came and went and not a word from them,'' said Cindy Rierson.
By then, the Riersons had invested $20,000 in the adoption effort. Yet Bonn had already offered to call off the adoptions and refund their money, they said.
Bonn wasn't obligated to make such an offer. Her contract with clients indicates fees are nonrefundable. But Bonn said she sometimes offers refunds in difficult cases.
The Riersons said they decided in early October to halt the process, and called Bonn to tell her. The next day, according to the Riersons, Bonn called back and told Dan Rierson he could fly to Paraguay in a week for the children because the final adoption papers had been signed.
So the Riersons didn't cancel. Dan Rierson flew to Asuncion in mid-October, and checked into a hotel. There he met two other Americans who were adopting children through Bonn - and they all grumbled about the process, he said.
As Rierson described the events, the phone rang in his hotel room. Bonn was on the line.
``Now she is telling me, `You guys just want to buy some kids - you don't want an adoption. I've got news for you, you may go through the whole adoption and still not get those kids,''' Rierson said.
Bonn said someone in the hotel had called her because Rierson had been ``badmouthing'' her, Rierson said. He believed Bonn was sending a threatening message: Don't complain.
The next day, Rierson said, he got more bad news: The legal adoption process that supposedly was nearly completed had apparently not begun. Legal paperwork that he had signed in April hadn't been processed, he said.
By late October, the Riersons said, they were running out of money.
``I called (Bonn) and told her, `I'm done,''' Cindy Rierson said. ```We are flat broke and Dan is coming home.' ''
The next day, Bonn managed to get the adoption papers signed by a Paraguayan judge, the Riersons said.
Bonn said it was coincidence - and that no strings were pulled.
Dan Rierson and the two children, Lacynda and Charlet, arrived at the airport a week later.
Bonn wasn't there to greet them.