Mom accused of offering same baby for different adoptions

By Bianca Prieto

July 15, 2009 / Orlando Sentinel

Pregnant and broke, an Orlando mother of four reached out to several adoption agencies to give up her unborn child in exchange for help with paying the bills.

She illegally signed contracts with two agencies and accepted more than $6,300 in assistance before telling the would-be adoptive parents she had changed her mind, records show.

Latasha Harlee is charged with scheme to defraud, a third-degree felony, for allegedly scamming money from the agencies.

She is scheduled to appear in court Thursday for a pretrial hearing.

Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful today.

In March 2008, Harlee, 25, signed a contract with Adoption by Shepherd Care in Orlando, agreeing to place the child up for adoption.

Almost immediately the agency began paying for pregnancy related expenses, including food, rent, utilities and medical expenses, according to a court document.

Three months later, Harlee put her unborn baby up for adoption for a second time with Heart of Adoptions, and that agency also began paying her living expenses.

In both instances, Harlee signed contracts that stated she was not and would not work with another adoption agency without disclosing it.

It's illegal to accept benefits from two families for the same child, according to court documents.

"She did intentionally defraud at least two different agencies and several families," said Joe Sica, executive director of Adoption by Shepherd Care. "Unfortunately, there are a few individuals who do intentionally try to do something like this."

Harlee lied about her due date to both agencies. The newborn was 7 weeks old when Harlee notified the agencies she no longer intended to give up the child.

Sica estimates he has encountered fewer than two dozen similar cases during the 21 years he has worked in the adoption field.

"Instances like this with Latasha, these are very, very small," Sica said. "This is very isolated."

In November, Harlee began calling adoption agencies again to seek financial assistance in exchange for an unborn child.

Adoption agencies found about the earlier case and refused her.

The Florida Department of Children and Families has intervened and placed four of Harlee's children with family members and a fifth child was adopted through a private agency, DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said.

It was unclear if the adopted child was the same one Harlee put up for adoption last year.

"The Department does not have any jurisdiction or authority over unborn children," Hoeppner said in an e-mail.

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