Tougher laws aren't halting sale of babies

SUSIE GRAN
Houston Chronicle
JUNE 6, 1988

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - It was a deal that continues to haunt Phyllis Quintana.

She sold her infant daughter in 1984 for $7,000. The biggest mistake of her life, and all it took was a long-distance call, the 24-year-old Albuquerque woman said.

"I'm still being punished for it," Quintana said.

After all this time, she's finally decided to talk about the black market adoption "so that other girls won't make the same mistake."

It would be as easy to do today as it was in 1984 because the man she called to help arrange the adoption is still in business.

Quintana dialed a Florida telephone number, which was answered by a man who said he was Richard Gitelman. He is the operator of an unlicensed adoption service, said Florida authorities who tried unsuccessfully to close down his business.

In a downtown Portland, Ore., motel that Quintana remembers as "scroungy," she and the baby's father - her "boyfriend," Charles Sharpe - handed over their daughter, Patricia, to two lawyers they'd never seen before. Quintana said all she could think of at the time was "that my baby was going to be safe. I trusted them that she was going to a good home. But I was sad. I wasn't myself." Gitelman had booked the flight for the Albuquerque couple to Oregon, a state that had lax adoption laws until the Quintana case and others like it forced the loopholes to be closed. Gitelman's adoptions are no longer welcome in many states.

Still, Gitelman personally answers his Coral Springs, Fla., home telephone number Quintana obtained from a newspaper advertisement seeking white, newborn babies for childless couples.

Adoption services like Gitelman's draw clients from coast to coast, desperate for newborn babies and willing to pay up to $30,000.

The man who answered the Florida telephone number declined comment on his business. He cited a pending criminal case. "I don't talk to reporters," he said.

In New Mexico, Quintana has learned that her involvement with Gitelman will not be forgotten.

She recently lost a divorce court battle over custody of her second child, a 2-year-old boy, when the judge learned of the earlier baby-selling.

"When I lost my son, it was like I lost Patricia again," Quintana said. "Why was I being punished again for the adoption?"

Custody of her son was awarded to his father - Quintana's former husband - by Las Cruces district judge James T. Martin, who granted Quintana once-a-month visitation rights in a divorce decree.

Martin denies that he was punishing her, although he felt baby-selling "reflects on a person who would do that."

Florida authorities said Gitelman no longer operates in states such as Oregon and Louisiana, which have new laws requiring the participants in an adoption to be residents and provide a detailed accounting of all medical expenses for approval to the court.

For years, New Mexico has had stringent laws against large payments for adoptions. Only reasonable medical and legal expenses may be paid in an adoption, and they must be submitted to the court for approval.

In the Quintana case, the mother estimated the expenses were between $3,000 and $4,000, but said that Gitelman never asked for documentation and that the Oregon court didn't require it at the time. Gitelman set the payment at $7,000, despite the baby's father's attempts to get $8,000, Quintana said.

After the couple collected the $7,000 from Gitelman's attorneys in the Oregon motel, they flew to Texas. The money lasted a month or two at the most, Quintana said. She said her boyfriend Sharpe spent the cash "like it was growing on trees - expensive dinners, expensive motels."

"I was turning into an alcoholic because of what was going on. I couldn't live up to what I was doing," she said.

Quintana returned to Albuquerque after her boyfriend was jailed and sought her parents' help. They sued through the Oregon courts to get her baby back, claiming the 21-year-old Quintana acted "in fear and panic" that the child would be abused by the father. They claimed she consented to the adoption under coercion and duress.

The Missouri couple who adopted Patricia had to return her to New Mexico after raising her for three months.

Quintana didn't have to pay back the $7,000. Daughter Patricia is being raised by Quintana's parents in Albuquerque, but the child calls Quintana "Mommy."

Although state after state is recognizing weaknesses in adoption law that allow baby-selling, there should be a national law against it, contend Florida officials who investigated Gitelman.

"I'm discouraged he hasn't been put out of business," said Morton Laitner, a lawyer for the Dade County, Fla., Health Department.

"His operation is an incentive for a national law. Until you have national legislation, you are going to have people hopping from state to state. They can even hop out of the country from island to island."

After her divorce, Quintana remarried. She and her new husband, Gary, recently had a baby girl, Nichole Ashley. Quintana has returned to work as the manager of an Albuquerque fast food restaurant.

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