Adoption agency's license is revoked

Date: 2007-04-10

Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)

Reaching Arms International has taken families' money and left them in limbo, state investigators have found.

Author: Patricia Lopez
Staff Writer

After an investigation found falsified documents, forged signatures and threats to families that complained about delays and additional costs, the state has revoked the license of a New Hope adoption agency.

Reaching Arms International, which has placed hundreds of orphans with Minnesota families since opening in 1992, can no longer take on new clients after the action by the state's Department of Human Services.

The revocation was issued March 30.

However, Reaching Arms has filed an appeal and will be able to continue work with existing clients, said Tim Wilkin, an assistant commissioner for the department.

Wilkin said Monday he did not know how long the appeal could take but said the department will push to have the matter resolved.

"We consider this to be very serious," he said.

"You've got families who were expecting a child," Wilkin said. "I feel for them. We want to get this resolved."

Reaching Arms officials were unavailable for comment Monday. The agency's voice mailbox was full, and e-mails were returned as undeliverable.

Said Brad Kantor of Plymouth, whose family had tried to adopt through Reaching Arms: "I'm ecstatic. It's great that they're being shut down. They caused a lot of families a lot of heartache. Our experience was terrible."

Among other things, Kantor said, the agency had forged documents, including a power-of-attorney form.

Brad and Beth Kantor pulled their contract, switched agencies and now have a 2-year-old boy from Guatemala. They lost about $10,000, Kantor said, "but we've got our son. I feel badly for the families still on the hook."

A Department of Human Services spokesman, John Seiss, said the revocation is the department's first in "at least 20 years and may be unprecedented. No one around here can remember one."

'Never a case like this'

Reaching Arms had been under investigation by the state since September and is still undergoing an audit by the Minnesota attorney general's office, which made the agency's problems public in January when it filed a suit seeking the audit.

At the time, Attorney General Lori Swanson said: "We've never seen a case like this in Minnesota, involving this level of complaints against an adoption agency."

The 27-page investigation report by the state details a litany of violations that include one family finding an undisclosed fee on its credit card that the agency charged after the family had canceled the contract. Other families were told their adoptions would be interrupted if they pursued grievances.

According to the report, one family was told to bring nearly $10,000 to Russia as bribe money for officials - a sum not disclosed in the family's contract. The report found that notarized signatures of adoptive family members were forged and signatures were notarized without the signer.

The report notes that a finding of falsified documents has been referred to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution.

"We're glad their license is being revoked," said Rick Spaulding, a would-be adoptive parent from Minneapolis. "But we're really angry it took this long and that something couldn't have been done in the interim."

Wilkin said the agency will not be required to turn over its existing contracts to another agency until the outcome of its appeal to an administrative law judge.

One family's situation

Spaulding and his wife, Christina Moulder, have been awaiting the arrival of their prospective daughter since she was 6 weeks old.

Josephine Andreas Elizabeth Spaulding - the name they've chosen for her - is now 16 months old, living with a caregiver in Guatemala City while Spaulding and Moulder wade through the international paperwork necessary to bring the toddler to Minnesota.

"We're going to get her, no matter what" Spaulding said. "This adoption is going to happen."

The couple has put $15,000 into the Reaching Arms adoption, has visited the girl twice and now has hired a legal firm in Guatemala, Spaulding said.

Many of the families, united by the lawsuit, have kept in close touch and created an informal support network. According to Spaulding, it isn't uncommon for families to have spent $15,000 to $20,000 so far with nothing to show for it.

Spaulding said he was able to hire Guatemalan lawyers only because another couple involved in the lawsuit pulled out of the adoption process, emotionally exhausted. Unable to recoup the fees they'd paid in Guatemala, they instead transferred the credit to Spaulding and Moulder.

"It's a gift," Spaulding said. "That's been the one good thing to come out of this, is we've met some wonderful people."

Families with current cases at the agency can be referred to another adoption agency, Seiss said.

"What happens to the money, we don't know," he added.

Patricia Lopez - 651-222-1288

MORE ON THE CASE

- Go to www.star tribune.com to see the state's report on Reaching Arms International. A previous story about the investigation can be seen at www.startribune.com/a2583.

- The organization's website is at www.reachingarms.org.

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