JUDGE REFUSES TO ALLOW REOPENING OF ADOPTION FIRM
By: PATRICK MAY
The Miami Herald
A Coral Springs man who state officials say has been illegally arranging adoptions failed Friday to convince a Broward judge to let him reopen his business.
Circuit Judge Larry Korda refused to lift the temporary injunction he had placed April 25 against Richard Gitelman, president of the National Adoption Counseling Service. That order bars him from conducting any adoption-related business in Florida.
Gitelman, 43, says he runs a nationwide service for couples in the market for babies. To find the infants, his 2-year-old agency has advertised in several states, offering to pay medical and legal expenses for pregnant women who may be considering abortion. He then arranges for the couple to pick up the newborn.
But attorneys for Florida's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services consider Gitelman's firm a referral agency. They sued late last year to permanently shut down his business, saying it is illegal for anyone without a license to refer for adoption for money.
And angry clients say Gitelman took their money, but never delivered the goods.
HRS attorney Morton Laitner Friday used an analogy to describe what he considers Gitelman's black-market sale of babies.
"If a young woman comes to an individual and says, 'I want $10,000 for the baby inside my body when it's born,' and is given the money, she commits a crime and goes to jail for baby selling.
"What Gitelman does," Laitner said, "is take that woman's name, address and phone number, and then gives it to a couple who wants the baby and collects the $10,000 for himself."
Gitelman has appealed Korda's injunction to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Gitelman's telephone number is unlisted. His attorney, James Boone, said he has advised Gitelman not to discuss the case.
Boone argued Friday that the temporary injunction was costing his client "tens of thousands of dollars," because he had to run his business out of state. Earlier this month, Laitner informed the judge that Gitelman has set up a new firm called Adoptive Search Inc. in Lafayette, La.
The issue may hinge on semantics. Is Gitelman "referring" his clients to the pregnant mothers, or simply "counseling" them on adoption procedures?
Florida Statute 63.212(g) covers the law that HRS says Gitelman has broken:
"It is unlawful for any person . . . except the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services or an agency, to charge or accept any fee or compensation of any nature from anyone for making a referral in connection with an adoption."
Laitner said Gitelman has never been issued a state license. Asked if any criminal charges could be filed against Gitelman, Laitner said he has forwarded his files to Broward Assistant State Attorney Ed Pyers.
Pyers did not return phone calls Friday.
Laitner said he has received calls from four couples about Gitelman. Two New York couples are listed in court records as clients of the agency.
Brian and Barbara Hessel of Port Washington, N.Y., said Friday that Gitelman took $12,000 from them without ever fulfilling his promise: "He guaranteed us a baby in our house within six months," said Barbara Hessel, 33.
They said Gitelman took $6,355 from them, saying he had a "birth mother" lined up in Oregon. The Hessels later learned
from Gitelman that the mother, who was 13, had serious infections that posed a threat to the baby.
"First of all, he wouldn't let my doctor talk to the girl's doctor," Hessel said. "Then, after we were told the father was six-foot, blond with blue eyes, Richard tells us the girl had really been raped, and she doesn't know who the father is."
The deal fell through. After a second try to get a baby through Gitelman, the Hessels gave up.
"We were taken for the ride of our lives," she said, "and we still ended up without a baby."