Napa case spurs new law on adoptions
By DAVID RYAN Register Staff Writer
Cheryl and Mike Blair thought they would be proud parents when they signed a $15,000 contract to adopt children through Napa adoption facilitator Yunona USA.
The Connecticut couple later learned the children whose pictures they had cherished, whose futures they had in mind when decorating their new bedrooms, had never been available for adoption. The Milfords didn’t get their money back, but that was the least of their worries.
“I’ve described this as what it must have felt like to parents — waiting nine months only to have their child stillborn and having to mourn instead of celebrate,” Mike Blair said after learning he had been scammed.
California adoption facilitators like the now-defunct Yunona USA will have a harder time fooling would-be adoptive parents like the Milfords, now that a bill inspired by coverage of Yunona USA is slated to become law in January.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1758 late Friday, which will require adoption facilitators in the state — middlemen in the adoption process — to post a $25,000 bond, undergo social work training and register with the state. The bill also paves the way for the state to conduct criminal background checks on adoption facilitators.
Previously, facilitators only had to post a $10,000 bond to set up shop legally.
State Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, the author of the bill, said she decided to investigate regulation of the adoption facilitator industry after reading the Napa Valley Register’s coverage of the Yunona USA investigation.
Legal loopholes at the state, federal and international level allowed adoption facilitators such as Yunona USA — later revealed by police to have scammed more than a hundred families across the country — to operate with no oversight.
Hearings at the state capitol, where Napa police investigators and adoption industry officials testified, led to SB 1758.
In his signing message, Schwarzenegger lauded Figueroa’s bill.
“Senate Bill 1758 will increase accountability for adoption facilitators in California and better protect children and families by increasing surety bonds, creating an online registry of adoption facilitators who meet specific requirements, and authorizing the Department of Social Services to conduct criminal background checks for these individuals,” he said.
Figueroa said she was surprised by support for some adoption facilitators at hearings held in Sacramento.
“Surprisingly enough, we thought people would say we should exclude facilitators,” she said. “Why not ban them altogether? But we found that people wanted regulation.”
Napa County prosecutors won a $368,000 default civil judgment in July against Yunona USA president Ivan Jerdev, who they alleged in court papers scammed more than $1.1 million from more than 100 would-be adoptive parents.
Jerdev is thought to be in Russia, where Russian newspapers reported earlier this year that he faced charges of child trafficking and release of confidential information.
Yunona’s Napa offices on Jefferson Street were shut down shortly after police raided the business in late December, carrying away company files and computers.
Schwarzenegger indicated in his signing message that next legislative session would see further steps taken to regulate adoption facilitators.
“While this bill is a good start to improve adoption facilitator services in California, I am directing the Department of Social Services to work with the Department of Justice and the Legislature on legislation next year to ensure the background checks provisions of the bill are technically improved and provide clear standards to expedite implementation,” he said.