Ex-trustee arrested in adoption agency theft

Date: 2008-04-02

Colorado Hometown Newspapers (Boulder County, CO)

A former Erie trustee was arrested last week for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from clients of her Boulder-based adoption agency.

Lisa Novak, 48, of Erie, was released on a $10,000 bond after being arrested on a warrant that accused her of stealing from two families attempting to adopt international children. Novak is due to appear in court April 4 for filing of charges.

Novak worked with her husband, Martin Claar, at the now-defunct Claar Foundation, which arranged international adoptions.

Boulder police began investigating the ex-trustee in January of this year after being contacted by a couple that claimed they paid Novak more than $25,000 in adoption fees and never received a refund when the agency closed.

According to police, Linda and Jaspal Singh reported in January that they adopted a boy from Guatemala after paying the foundation $36,466. They picked him up in early December; during that trip, they met a girl whom they decided they also wanted to adopt.

The couple told police they paid the foundation $25,000 to arrange for the girl's adoption but were told later in December that the foundation was closing and the adoption would not be arranged. They asked for their money and files back so they could pursue the adoption through another agency but, they told police, they did not receive the money or records.

The couple decided to contact the orphanage directly. They spoke with an attorney representing the Guatemalan orphanage and were told that the foundation provided the orphanage with a $12,500 check for the couple's first adoption and it bounced. The problem, the couple told police, meant they would not be allowed to adopt the second child.

After launching an investigation, as a result of the Singh's complaints, Boulder Police were contacted by a separate party with similar concerns.

Carol Kuzdek told police she paid Novak's adoption agency about $19,000 in 2005 and 2006 to adopt a child from Guatemala. By 2007, Kuzdek still hadn't received a referral for a child and asked for a refund — which, she told police, Novak refused to pay.

Kuzdek pursued arbitration in November 2007 and was awarded a full refund to be paid within 15 days of the ruling. She never received the money, according to police.

Novak faces two theft charges and a fraud charge, according to police. All three charges are felonies.

In May 2005, Novak faced litigation filed by her brother, Joseph Novak. Joseph sued the couple over accusations that they transferred assets among multiple companies to escape liability for more than $216,000 of borrowed money. The suit also alleged the couple put $8,400 in charges on credit cards taken out under his name without his knowledge.

The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2005, after a confidential settlement. Joseph Novak declined to be interviewed. Lisa Novak said the suit was settled in her favor but that she could not discuss details.

Novak resigned from the Erie Board of Trustees in January 2005, citing a busy schedule that no longer allowed her to devote the necessary time to the office.

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