Adoption ordeals a 'living hell' Erie foundation's CEO facing theft, fraud charges

Date: 2008-03-31

Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Author: Lisa Ryckman, Rocky Mountain News

Next month, Carol Kuzdek will travel to Guatemala and pick up the adorable 6-month-old girl she has named Alice, after her own mother.

It's a moment Kuzdek had feared might never come.

After 18 months and more than $18,000, the Boulder woman gave up hope that the international adoption agency she was working with, the Claar Foundation, would ever come through. Now the agency has declared bankruptcy and its owner and CEO, Lisa Novak, 48, of Erie, faces theft and fraud charges.

Kuzdek's baby is coming from another agency, but her experience with Claar has left her jittery.

"With Lisa, you always felt that at any time the rug could be yanked out from under your feet," she said. "I still feel that way."

Kuzdek's ordeal began after she ran into an old friend who had just adopted through the Claar Foundation and spoke highly of it. She went to an orientation meeting and signed a contract at the end of 2005.

By the end of June 2006, Kuzdek had been cleared to adopt. Then it was just a matter of waiting for a referral for an available child.

In the meantime, Kuzdek said she began hearing complaints about Claar.

"I talked to Lisa, and she said that there are always those people who complain, that you can't please everyone," Kuzdek said.

But months passed without a referral - three, then six.

"Lisa would say that we don't buy babies, we're legitimate, all the other agencies are buying babies," Kuzdek said.

In January 2007, a frustrated Kuzdek asked for her $13,100 referral fee back.

"They told me they weren't going to give it to me," she said. In May, almost a year after she had been approved to adopt, she withdrew from Claar and asked for her money and her file. She got neither.

Though she later, through arbitration, won approval for a full refund, Novak shut down Claar the day after payment was due.

"I don't think I'll ever see a penny of that money," Kuzdek said.

Her friend, Kirsten Bailey, of Lafayette, also went through Claar to adopt her son, Oliver. He was born in February 2007, but they are still waiting for the adoption to be finalized.

"It's been a tumultuous journey," Bailey said. "As the process went on, communication got worse and worse."

She said people who complained to Novak would be threatened with the loss of their adoption.

"They wanted you to be quiet and not say anything," Bailey said. "Everyone was so intimidated to talk to them."

Novak could not be reached for comment. She was released from the Boulder County Jail last week on $10,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court in April.

Bailey said she has paid close to $30,000 for the adoption but never received any photos or updates about her son, who she and her husband have visited several times. They've met the people who are caring for him, and the adoption process is now in the hands of an agency she trusts.

"I don't regret it at all, although it's been the worst living hell," Bailey said. "I love that little boy and I want him to be part of our family."

Carol Kuzdek said she doesn't expect to see a penny of the thousands of dollars she paid Lisa Novak of the Claar Foundation. DARIN MCGREGOR / THE ROCKY CAPTION: Carol Kuzdek thumbs through photos of her adopted daughter-to-be, Alice. Kuzdek is getting her chance to adopt the Guatemalan child, but not through the Claar Foundation, which she says defrauded her of more than $18,000. DARIN MCGREGOR / THE ROCKY
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