DA files suit against adoption firm

Date: 2006-01-10

DAVID RYAN, Register Staff Writer

The Napa County District Attorney's Office filed a civil lawsuit Monday against a now-defunct Napa international adoption firm, its owner and two former employees, seeking more than $1.5 million and gaining an injunction to officially stop operations of Yunona USA.

Yunona USA is alleged by more than a dozen would-be adoptive parents across the country to have engaged in bait-and-switch tactics to lure them into spending thousands of dollars to adopt children from around the world, children they later found out were never available for adoption.

The company used multiple Web sites, posting pictures of foreign children to attract clients.

A review of public records surrounding the Napa Police Department's investigation into Yunona USA revealed the DA's office first received complaints against Yunona as early as April 2003. A formal investigation was launched in November 2005, when one woman complained directly to the police department.

Deputy District Attorney Daryl Roberts said that because of Yunona's international connections, it had been forwarding complaints to the FBI, but didn't learn until recently that federal prosecutors decided to drop the case.

"It puts us in a very awkward situation," Roberts said. "... The ball gets dropped and nobody bothers to tell us that."

The FBI didn't immediately return phone calls requesting comment.

The suit charges Yunona-owner Ivan Jerdev, former Vice President Nick Sims and former Yunona Orphan Relief Fund officer Alex Nikolenko with knowingly misleading clients and drawing up faulty contracts. The DA's office is asking for minimum penalties that could cost each defendant $500,000 per victim, plus another $500,000 for fraud-related activities.

Sims, 66, said he worked as vice president when Jerdev went to his native Russia last June, but mostly because he was the only employee who could translate English into Russian, the language spoken by other employees. Sims said he resigned in November, was not involved in fraud and was not paid for much of his time with the company. Jerdev is still believed to be in Russia.

Sims lives in a small, sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment and said he had no money. He said Jerdev's American bank accounts were shut down.

The DA's office doesn't expect to collect much cash, given the fact that the principle player appears to have abandoned the country. Roberts said the lawsuit is mostly to make sure Yunona can't continue to operate here.

He cautioned the DA's reach was limited and it was possible Jerdev could set up another Yunona-like operation in another county or state under another name.

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