Who's running adoption probe?
By DAVID RYAN, Register Staff Writer
A Russian attorney is attempting to act as a liaison between Russian prosecutors and American victims of former Napa adoption firm Yunona USA, but is facing opposition from skeptical victims who believe she is a fraud.
Irina O'Rear, who runs a Russian law practice based partly in Tampa, Fla., has been trying to convince victims of Yunona to tell their stories to Russian prosecutors. At the same time, some victims said Napa police instructed them not to cooperate with her.
"We don't know who this woman is," said Napa Police Sgt. Tim Cantillon.
O'Rear said she is legitimate and the Russian case against Yunona-leader Ivan Jerdev will suffer without cooperation from U.S. victims.
"It's not proved that he got somebody's money," she said. "(Proof) is the key word. He got money to help with adoption. I don't know how much proof they have."
Police said Thursday they found more than 100 families across the nation who claim they were defrauded of thousands of dollars by Yunona. The company promised to help facilitate foreign adoptions to American families by posting pictures of children on the Internet. Some of those children turned out to be unavailable. Other times Yunona pressured families to adopt different, more disabled, children than promised when those families arrived at foreign orphanages.
The Napa District Attorney's Office filed a civil suit against Jerdev and two former Yunona officers in early January. Napa police plan to file criminal charges within a few months, hoping to win extradition of Jerdev to the U.S. Russian media reported Jerdev was arrested in late January on child trafficking charges and allegations he bribed Russian officials to obtain confidential information.
According to a Yahoo! Yunona Internet discussion group posting by Lisa Hendrickson of Gulfport, Miss., Napa Police Det. Ron Appel advised victims not to contact O'Rear because Russian authorities are supposed to seek information from U.S. authorities via the State Department.
Cantillon could not confirm whether Appel advised victims about O'Rear, but he did say victims are supposed to deal with U.S. law enforcement, and that Napa police have no plans to contact Russian authorities.
"I don't know anything about her except this person is representing that she is a Russian attorney," Cantillon said. "The Napa Police Department is asking the victims to give us the information."
The FBI is working with Napa police on the case. Special Agent Laray Quy, an FBI spokeswoman, said she could not talk about the Yunona investigation specifically, but she said generally that when the FBI seeks cooperation from foreign authorities, FBI personnel housed in U.S. embassies handle the work.
"That doesn't mean we go through the State Department, but we certainly work with them," she said. "They house our agents while they are in these foreign countries."
Yunona victims have provided police with copies of contracts, checks made out to Yunona, e-mail records and other proof of their claims -- proof, O'Rear said, Russian prosecutors could put to better use than their American counterparts.
"To go after Jerdev on (the) U.S. side doesn't solve (the) problem," she said. "People who worked with Jerdev are still walking free in Russia. There are probably a hundred people who want to take his place."
O'Rear said Russian authorities did not have as extensive contact with U.S. victims as Napa police.
"This is my understanding, that they don't work together," she said. "I was contacted by several people who said it was over 90 cases in U.S. The Russian (prosecutor) doesn't have that. That's why I made the conclusion that they don't work together."
Maryanne Fournier of Haverhill, Mass., told other victims on the Yahoo! Internet group to be wary of O'Rear.
"There are many who will attempt to deceive us, and we have already been there, done that," she wrote. "I am sorry, but I have the fullest faith in our legal system to protect us."
O'Rear said she wants to help the victims, despite their skepticism.
"I do feel sorry for people who were destroyed by Yunona," she said. "I really thought they would be happy. My offer was from my heart."