Lisa Novak's defense: Adoptions are risky
Daily Times-Call, The (Longmont, CO)
Trial begins with primer in adoption process
Author: Victoria A.F. Camron , Longmont Times-Call
BOULDER — The risks associated with international adoption — not criminal activity — caused some parents to lose money to a Boulder adoption agency, a defense attorney argued Monday afternoon.
"An agreement to adopt a child is nothing like buying french fries," defense attorney Lance Goff said in opening arguments in the trial of Lisa Novak.
Novak, 48, is standing trial on charges of theft and fraud by check, accused of not returning money to clients of the Claar Foundation when their hoped-for adoptions fell through. From October 2003 until January 2005, Novak was an appointed trustee for the town of Erie.
"The Claar Foundation was a legitimate adoption agency," Goff said. But when potential parents pay fees to adopt a child, there is no guarantee they will be able to adopt, he said.
"There is a great deal of unpredictability in the process" of foreign adoptions, Goff told a jury of three men and 11 women, including two alternates. He compared adopting with undergoing infertility treatments, in that the client pays for the services without a guarantee of success.
Political problems in adopting children from Guatemala caused the Claar Foundation's revenue to drop nearly by half between 2006 and 2007, from $1 million to $524,000, Goff said.
Novak's husband owned the Claar Foundation, but he was not charged after the agency closed. The couple passed on taking paychecks when the foundation could not afford to pay them, Goff said.
In 2006, Novak earned about $55,000; that dropped to about $49,000 in 2007, Goff said.
"It was a tiny percent of the Claar Foundation's revenue," he said.
In addition to the political difficulties of international adoptions, there are other reasons that adoptions fall through, Goff said. Some parents don't pass or don't complete the required home study; others fail to compile all the necessary legal paperwork required by the governments of the United States or the foreign country.
Some, but not all, of those who will testify against Novak have legitimate breach-of-contract claims, Goff said.
Novak was arrested in March after a couple told police they paid the Claar Foundation $25,000 in December to adopt a girl from Guatemala. When the couple learned the foundation was closing, they asked for their money back and for their files but received neither, according to police.
The couple also learned that the foundation bounced a $12,500 check written to a Guatemalan adoption agency when that couple adopted a boy there. Because that check bounced, the couple was not allowed to adopt the girl they wanted, according to police.
Another woman told police that she paid the foundation a $13,000 referral fee but sought a refund because she never received the referral. In November, an arbitrator awarded the woman the money, but she never received it, police said.
Prosecutors are not accusing Novak of embezzling the money from the Claar Foundation, Goff told jurors.
"All the money in this case is accounted for," he said.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.