Adoption agency owner: 'Due process' was denied
Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
But the attorney general challenged the defense offered by the owner of the RAI agency.
Author: Patricia Lopez
The owner of Reaching Arms International, a New Hope adoption agency under fire for alleged violations that include forged documents and falsified signatures, emerged for the first time Thursday with a public defense.
Owner Nila Hilton released a two-page statement that said she had been denied due process by the state attorney general and state Department of Human Services and had been unaware of state investigations until informed by reporters. "This does not seem fair or just," she said in the statement.
Hilton also appeared to criticize some of the families that had complained to the state about the agency, but she offered no specifics.
"Without going into detail, within some of the complaining families we noticed issues that we strongly believed needed outside independent assessment," Hilton said in the statement.
Hilton added: "When one of these families refused to follow through on our recommendations, RAI [Reaching Arms International] withdrew its support of the process."
Dozens of complaints are on file against the agency that allege pressure tactics, unexplained fees, lack of communication and, ultimately, adoptions that have been left in limbo. .
Disputing agency's version
Attorney General Lori Swanson disputed Hilton's assertions, saying Thursday that "it's simply not true" that Hilton was not informed of the investigation.
In January, Swanson sought and received a court order to audit the agency, which has received tens of thousands of dollars from families for uncompleted adoptions. That audit is ongoing.
To attempt to blame the families involved, Swanson said, "is incomprehensible. They [RAI] better be prepared to offer some serious evidence."
Reaching Arms had its state license revoked last month by the Department of Human Services in what state officials have described as an unprecedented case.
A 27-page investigation report at the time described a litany of alleged violations that included one family finding an undisclosed fee on its credit card that Reaching Arms had charged after the family canceled the adoption.
Hilton, who has refused to comment since the attorney general filed a lawsuit in January, said in her statement that "before the story broke on Jan. 31, we had no idea we were being investigated by the Minnesota Attorney General."
Hilton also declared that in a separate, six-month investigation, the state Human Services Department "never disclosed the nature of their inquiries. Our license was revoked with no hint of due process."
Terry Gunderson, spokeswoman for the department, said that the investigation prohibited officials from discussing the case in detail. Reaching Arms has appealed the state's license revocation.
Public relations plan
Hilton had sent her statement on Thursday morning, accompanied by an offer to meet with reporters. Later Thursday, she retracted her offer of media interviews, citing the advice of her attorney. "We're just not ready yet," she said in a phone call to the Star Tribune.
Hilton also inadvertently sent along a memo from a public relations firm that described a plan to contact all major local media, along with suggestions that Hilton "be prepared to answer some tough questions" and have "your third party testimonials list ready (the ones we discussed). This will help reinforce your key issues and side of the story."
The memo advised that "in a crisis situation (which this is), you do not want to inadvertently come across as defensive but instead want to convey your concern and the fact that you are cooperating with various agencies/authorities and reinforce your years of experience and positive track record."
Shortly after noon, Hilton said her lawyer, Ruth Ostrom, had advised against immediate interviews and referred inquiries to Ostrom, who did not return phone calls Thursday.
In her statement Hilton reiterated the agency's 14-year record and said she had placed "some 900 children" in that time and has been given various honors.
Hilton wrote that she had "earned those accolades by fighting for the rights of impoverished third world children and uniting them with loving families."
Hilton wrote that her agency had been "hit with a vicious and hateful stream of anonymous e-mails telling us we should rot in hell and that God is punishing us. Our personal property has been trespassed upon, our names have been dragged through the mud and our source of livelihood has been stripped from us."
Patricia Lopez - 651-222-1288