Novak accused of defrauding adopting couples
Daily Camera, The (Boulder, CO)
Defense: Novak a 'scapegoat'
Trial of former Erie trustee continues
Author: Heath Urie Camera Staff Writer
A former Erie trustee accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from couples hoping to adopt children through her former Boulder- based agency is a "scapegoat" for angry would-be parents, her attorney told a jury Tuesday.
Lisa Novak, 48, is charged with multiple counts of felony theft and fraud in a case in which she is accused of failing to deliver on adoptions and pocketing the fees.
Novak's trial began Monday. It resumed Tuesday with opening statements from her defense attorney, Lance Goff, and emotional testimony from former clients who said they lost children and huge sums of money by trusting the businesswoman.
Goff told the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates seated for the 12-day trial that some of Novak's former clients who had failed adoptions went to the Boulder County District Attorney's Office with claims that Novak had scammed them only after becoming "panicked" that some countries closed their borders to international adoptions.
"They were not buying children, they were paying to participate in a process," Goff said of the "unlucky" clients who weren't able to adopt.
He blamed one former client in particular for rallying other distressed parents against Novak.
"The real villain here, ladies and gentlemen, is not Lisa Novak -- it's Carol Kuzdek," Goff told jurors.
Police say Novak failed to refund $13,100 of an adoption referral fee paid last year by Kuzdek, a Boulder resident who won an $18,700 judgment against Novak after she filed a lawsuit alleging Novak's company, the Claar Foundation, failed to return fees for an adoption in Guatemala that never happened.
"She'll be described as a dark cloud," Goff said about Kuzdek. "When she didn't get her referral as quickly as she wanted it, she started to essentially harass the staff of the Claar Foundation."
Kuzdek is expected to testify today.
Goff also told jurors that the complicated nature of international adoptions led to lost investments for Novak's now-defunct company, and no money was stolen.
He said an international treaty signed by the United States in 1993 and by Guatemala in 2003 led to a shutdown of adoptions between the two countries in late 2007.
"When these countries close, (adoption agencies) essentially lose their investments ... and that's what happened to the Claar Foundation," Goff said.
He said all of Novak's clients were made aware that certain fees were nonrefundable, and they paid money knowing it wasn't being spent specifically to get them a child.
"They were never told that money was going to do anything but be deposited into the Claar Foundation's general fund" and be used for operating expenses, Goff said. "They knew that their money was not being put into a bank."
Goff told the jurors he thinks they will ultimately acquit his client.
"My client is innocent, and you will render a not-guilty verdict on every charge," he predicted.
The prosecution is expected to call 17 witnesses, Deputy District Attorney Bruce Langer said.
On Tuesday, jurors heard from two witnesses: Jaspal Singh; and his wife, Linda Carlson-Singh.
The Singhs successfully adopted a Guatemalan boy using the Claar Foundation in 2005, but they say they were bilked out of thousands of dollars to complete that adoption and that Novak took thousands more for a failed second adoption.
Jaspal Singh, a native of India who is a permanent U.S. resident living in Westminster, said he and his wife became worried in August 2007 about where the tens of thousands of dollars they had paid were being spent.
"We were shocked," he said. "We were not provided the accountability for the $58,000."
Jaspal Singh, a software engineer, said Novak also asked him to help find her husband a job in the software industry.
If he didn't aid in the job search, Singh said, "then I might not be able to get my son home."
The Singhs eventually hired another adoption agency and an immigration attorney to finalize the adoption of their first child, and they were able to bring him home. They never received the second child, a 2-year-old girl named Marian.
In total, the Singhs estimated that Novak stole or misused about $38,000 in adoption fees from September 2005 to November 2007.
During cross-examination by Novak's attorney, Jaspal Singh agreed that the Claar Foundation did not guarantee the delivery of a child, and there are certain risks associated with international adoptions.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.