BABIES FOR SALE

Difficulty of tracing infants makes prosecution tough, authorities say

Bobette Riner
The Dallas Morning News
July 22, 1985

Some couples yearning to adopt a baby will go to the black market and plunk down enough money to buy the child a college education.

The prospective parents who have had no luck getting a baby from a licensed agency will travel cross-country and pay exorbitant fees to expedite what they think is a private adoption -- but what may be the illegal sale of a child, authorities said.

"People who are desperate on both sides can easily be exploited,' said Kris Schneidau, an institutional licensing representative with the Texas Department of Human Resources.

Black market adoptions -- selling children for profit -- rarely are prosecuted because they are hard to investigate and prove without complaints, state and local officials say.

The arrest last week of Dallas lawyer Robert I. Kingsley in connection with the alleged sale of a baby was one of the rare cases to come to investigators' attention, authorities said.

Grand Prairie police are preparing formal charges against Kingsley, who was released on $1,500 bond last week on an investigative charge that he sold a 7-month-old Grand Prairie girl, Rachel Marie Hagge. Police still are searching for the baby.

Private adoptions, done with approval of the court, are legal in most states, including Texas. The biological parents must voluntarily relinquish their rights to the child, Ms. Schneidau said. At the same time, the adoptive parents usually file a petition with the court for the adoption. Adoptive parents may pay the natural parents only for the legal and medical expenses incurred and the attorney a reasonable legal fee.

The adoptions enter the "gray market' -- a misdemeanor -- when someone solicits a mother to give up her baby. And it becomes a "black market' sale -- a felony -- if the person arranging the adoption makes a profit, authorities said.

"Profit is very difficult to differentiate when an attorney is involved,' Ms. Schneidau said. "It's up to a court to determine between an attorney's fee and (an illegal) placement fee.

"Some people have good intentions and they feel good about what they're doing,' Ms. Schneidau said. "But adoptions are a risky business. They need to be protected.'

Although Texas is not lenient, it certainly is more open than many states regarding adoption, said Jessica Luttrell, a licensing specialist for the state Human Resources Department.

Even well-meaning lawyers -- particularly those who only occasionally handle adoptions -- don't always know the law, she said.

Cases of private adoptions in which the adoptive parents do not know the birth parents are most likely to raise questions among authorities, Ms. Schneidau said.

Most judges meet with the adoptive parents, in order to determine the best interests of the child, said State District Judge Sam Houston of Denton.

Houston and State District Judge Craig Penfold of Dallas said they became uncomfortable with several cases being handled by Kingsley after screening the adoptive parents -- many of whom were from out of state.

Houston said that in April, he asked state social workers to file a report on a case Kingsley handled in the fall.

"I took a hard look at the case -- probably a harder look than I've ever taken at an adoption case,' he said. "There were several things that looked unusual to me.'

And when a Cedar Hill couple petitioned in June to adopt the baby of a friend, then suddenly withdrew their petition, Penfold said he wanted to find the reason.

In a preliminary hearing, he learned that Kingsley had approached the couple and apparently convinced them to give up the child to a couple from New York.

William Aycock, an investigator with the Human Resources Department inspector general's office, said that three other possible child-selling cases -- filed against Kingsley on July 12 with Dallas and Denton district attorneys -- were the first in the state.

"It hasn't surfaced before,' he said.

Both Dallas cases are scheduled to be heard Tuesday by a Dallas grand jury. The Denton case is pending investigation by district attorneys, and Aycock said he is investigating 24 other possible cases involving Kingsley.

Baby-selling occurs because some biological parents facing hard times choose to give up their children, while others simply realize they can get a lot of money for a healthy baby.

An Arlington police investigator said a lawyer friend was shocked when a pregnant woman and the father-to-be tried to talk the attorney into finding a market for their baby.

For some lawyers, officials say, the temptation is too great to ignore.

"Find yourself a little white male child and that's big bucks,' said the investigator, who asked not to be identified.

The biological parents may think they're making big money, but what they receive usually is a pittance compared to the money made by the person arranging the adoption, officials said.

They say that even lawyers with the best of intentions -- and those who are undoubtedly arranging for a better home for the child -- can't help but make a lot of money from potential parents too desperate or impatient to get on the long waiting lists at licensed agencies.

A Dallas lawyer was convicted in 1983 of selling two newborn infants for $23,000 each to couples in the northeastern United States.

One problem with investigating and prosecuting such cases -- particularly out of state -- is that it's often hard to prove the baby was sold if there are no records to show where it is, as in the case of the Grand Prairie infant.

Grand Prairie Lt. J.M. Gatlin said that in the Hagge case, "other violations could be identified' from files seized during a search of Kingsley's office last week.

A lot of the natural parents who dealt with Kingsley were married couples who didn't have the money to raise another child, Mrs. Kingsley said.

She conceded that the case of the Cedar Hill couple "was a strange case all the way around.'

"I don't remember anything like this,' she said.

Mrs. Kingsley said she and her husband took pains to show they really cared.

"Bob and I really care about the (adoptive parents) and the girls (natural mothers). I've been in the labor room with at least two of them,' she said. "They came to him (Kingsley) with their speeding tickets and their boyfriends' speeding tickets. He'd never charge them; a real friendship developed.'

Mrs. Kingsley said one of the mothers offered to get pregnant again and let them arrange the child's adoption.

"I had one girl that offered,' she said. "I thought that was sort of strange. She told me, 'I really enjoyed being pregnant. I'd do it again.'"

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