Fraud probe launched into bankrupt adoption agency

Date: 2009-07-27

By Robin Summerfield

Delores and Shawn Bertin are like 400 other prospective families uncertain about their applications to adopt since Imangine Adoption went bankrupt.

Delores and Shawn Bertin are like 400 other prospective families uncertain about their applications to adopt since Imangine Adoption went bankrupt.
Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald

CALGARY -- A bankrupt adoption agency that left 400 Canadian families in the lurch and their overseas adoptions up in the air is being investigated for fraud.

Waterloo Regional Police launched a fraud investigation into Kids Link International, which operated as Imagine Adoption, after meeting with the organization's three-member board Wednesday.

Those members came forward with documents and concerns about the agency's dealings, said fraud investigator Sgt. Rob Zensner with the Waterloo Regional Police.

They also received about 10 complaints from parents, including one family from Alberta, he said.

Bankruptcy trustee BDODunwoody has also provided police with documents and information to help with the investigation, Zensner said.

Zensner wouldn't speculate on how long the investigation would take, but said it would include interviewing employees and witnesses, and sifting through banking and accounting documents among other agency paperwork.

In Alberta, 64 families were clients with the agency and less than 10 had finalized their adoptions.

News of the investigation brought a small measure of relief to local parents swept up in the agency's sudden demise.

"Part of me is relieved, I guess, that someone is going to be held accountable. The other part of me worries how it will affect the processing of my file," said Delores Bertin, an Imagine Adoption client in Calgary.

Bertin, 36, and her husband Shawn, 37, hoped to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Between fertility treatments and now international adoption, the couple has spent between $35,000 and $40,000. The couple hadn't yet been matched with a child when the agency went bankrupt.

Bertin doesn't believe their stalled adoption will ever go through.

"We would love it if our adoption would be finalized, but my gut is telling me that that's not going to happen. I hope I'm wrong," she said.

Bertin also questioned why there wasn't better oversight by the adoption agency's board.

"I'm glad they came forward, but I still think they bear some responsibility for this."

Meanwhile, another Calgary mom, whose adoption of an Ethiopian baby boy named Wondimu was finalized 10 days before the agency went under, is trying to remain positive.

"I hope it wasn't fraud," said Jodi Thurmeier, 34, who says she hopes the whole mess is a case of "hearts being bigger than heads."

"Maybe they launched way too many initiatives way too fast and things got out of control," she said.

Global Reach Children's Fund, a charitable organization also headed by Imagine Adoption owners Sue Hayhow and Andrew Morrow, raises money for health, education and development projects in Ecuador and Ethiopia.

Hayhow and Morrow arrived in Ethiopia on July 13, just as news of the bankruptcy broke in Canada.

In an e-mail to the Herald received last week, Hayhow said she was busy focusing her efforts on the children and would consider speaking about what happened.

Bankruptcy documents posted online reveal the agency had an estimated budget shortfall of $363,000, not included the estimated $800,000 worth of claims from the families.

The agency also had a $50,000 Lexus and$30,000 Nissan Pathfinder and was paying $13,000 a month in rent for three offices.

News of the fraud investigation comes as local parents affected by the agency's bankruptcy gear up for their first group meeting on Saturday in Calgary.

Local adoption experts and a legal expert are expected to discuss the bankruptcy and field questions from families about completing their outstanding adoptions.

Parents who have concerns or questions about the fraud investigation can call the fraud investigation unit with the Waterloo Regional Police at 519-650-8500 ext. 8380.


Are people taking a closer look?

It seems to me the only time PAP's get worried or concerned about an adoption scam is when they are the ones losing money.

The above article struck a new trigger and hit another raw nerve in me... the raw tender nerve that says:  "You have NOT done your homework as well as you should have."

"I hope it wasn't fraud," said Jodi Thurmeier, 34, who says she hopes the whole mess is a case of "hearts being bigger than heads."

"Maybe they launched way too many initiatives way too fast and things got out of control," she said.

Such an odd statement to make, given the fact that profit-making through adoption has always been a very attractive feature found in the business of family-making for the infertile.  With that, I'd like to present a very brief history lesson ALL PAP's should read, hoping the more PAP's learn about adoption, the smarter they will be when choosing an orphan-finding agency.

"Do you find the business profitable."

"Well, generally the demand is rather in excess of the supply, and hence the chances of profit 'are fairly good, but my expenses are large. My rent is heavy, and doctor's fees make a large hole in my profits. My competitors are very numerous, and of course that cuts down prices. Things are not what they used to be.' Now, if a customer is not satisfied with my rates she goes elsewhere, in fact, goes 'shopping,' The establishment opposite has been a greaf source of loss to me. Where I used to get $200 a year ago, I must now be satisfied with $75.   [From:  A Broker in Babies, 1883]

In the 1930's, a new special health-service was created, and The Ideal Maternity Home was born.

Elaborate contracts were signed by the unwed mothers, giving William the power of attorney and legal authority over their babies and their adoptions. If not signed within 14 days of the birth, they were charged an additional $30.00. By the time the girls left the Home their bills often exceeded $300.00. *(Average wages at this time were: Sales clerks $8 per week, domestics $4 per week)

With the increase in the number of babies for adoption, the American tourist trade, hard working lawyers, and the Greed of the Youngs, a whole new, wealthy adoption market opened, and many babies found new homes in the USA, where many couples were restricted from adopting, due to age, state laws, etc. These grateful new parents were very generous, and made large and generous "contributions" to the Home out of "gratitude". Many of these children found good homes, but not in all cases "legal". In many cases, these new parents were not aware that siblings (twins) may have been separated to provide them with their chosen child, or that the child may have been secretly taken away from it's mother. In the mid 40's the pregnant girls coming to the Home were generating revenues of about $60,000, for the Youngs, but the real money was coming from the baby sales. Babies were sold for between $1000 and $10,000 each. On top of that, donations were demanded and expected. Even allowing for the "rejected" babies and those who died - at least 10 percent of the total - and sales to the less lucrative local market, it is reasonable to estimate that half the babies, 700 or so, were sold for an average of about $5,000. That is a total of $3.5 million. ....By 1943, the Youngs were well on their way to wealth. After several additions and expansions, the cottage they started with in 1928 was now a huge structure with 54 rooms and 14 bathrooms. The home had elegant turrets and was surrounded by expansive lawns and greenery and most important to the Youngs - mortgage free.  [From:  Butterbox Babies

Years later, there seems to have been a growing concern about children languishing in institutional settings. In 1948 Georgia Tann, executive director of the Tennessee Children's Home Society at Memphis, Tenn., made a brave call for creating universal adoption laws by stating the following: 

"We are bitterly opposed to having children kept unnecessarily in boarding homes and are working for their placement in adopted homes," Miss Tann said, "It is our plan to obtain uniform adoption laws throughout the United States to make it possible to place children from one state for adoption in another."  [From: Society for Uniform Adoption Created

Georgia Tann was also known for stealing children, claiming they were abandoned or orphaned, selling them to infertile couples who had the money to pay for her services.

Georgia Tann, a conscienceless woman who from 1924 to 1950 operated out of Memphis arranging the illegal adoptions of poor children by middle-class and wealthy couples. She acquired many of these children through kidnapping, and at least 50 of the more than 5,000 children she dealt with died of neglect.

Tann began falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates in 1928. She did so to cover her crimes, but claimed that it spared them the shame of being known to have been adopted — and, often, born outside wedlock.

This must have sounded good to well-meaning legislators and social workers, because by 1948 almost every state falsified adoptees’ birth certificates.  [From:  Mystery-Free Adoption

In the 1950's more was discovered (and published) about adoption, paid services, and the Broker's World.

About a month ago, I had an extraordinary conversation in a mid western city with a woman just released from jail. She had passed a bad check; the law had hunted her down and put her behind bars. The experience, she said, had taught her a profound lesson.

"No more bad checks for me. I'm going back to selling babies," she said. "It's the best racket going."

A shocking statement, you will say. But I had just finished a decade under Frank S. Hogan, district attorney of New York County, as a staff assistant concerned, for the most part, with the baby-selling racket. I had traveled over a large part of the United States to investigate, on my own, this trade in human beings and to seek methods of stopping it. I was in a good position to know that bad-check bouncer was absolutely right.

She continued her soliloquy "It's a fifty-two-week-a-year job. You get paid every week, plus a bonus for every pregnant girl you dig up. And all you do is ride the bus and hang around clinics and bars looking for girls. Or hang around Parent-Teacher meetings and clubs looking for somebody who wants to buy a baby. When you latch on to a girl or a parent, you just send her to a go-between and he sends her to the boss."  [From:  Texas Lone-Star's Hightower Black Market Example ]

In the 1970's a new scam was taking place... a scam that was hurting people, and making a killing.  Mothers of live-births were told their babies were dead.  These so-called dead babies were then sold to couples longing to adopt.  [See: Dead Baby Scam]

Meanwhile, since the 1960's all sorts of new rules were being made; new ways to find babies for the paying and desperate were taking new turns and crossing new borders.  Such plans and schemes paved the road for future adoption workers service providers like  Seymour Kurtz , Stanley Michelman,  Galindo and The Banks.

College towns are good sources. The brokers, for instance, will set up pregnancy counseling services' in college towns to learn about pregnant girls. So, again, it's going out of state, but it involves Massachusetts people.

"Then there's the quickie Mexican procedure," she said. "The attorney in Mexico finds an American-born baby for them. But it'll go through the Mexican courts, usually in Juarez. Only half of the couple needs to go down. The biological mother doesn't need to appear. It's finalized in about 15 minutes and there's no social worker investigation. And there's no way the American authoriites can object to it. It's legal."

Indeed, it is all legal. No major baby broker has ever been convicted, although three of the major subjects in McTaggart's book were indicted on various peripheral charges. Many people, defend the practice of baby brokering. They wonder who is being harmed. After all, doesn't everyone - the mother, the lawyer, and the new parents - get what he or she wants?

"There are all kinds of victims," McTaggart argued. "The victims are the couples who can't afford the going rates, or who have to mortgage their house to buy a baby. You've got young women who are often coerced into giving up their babies. You've got the child who can go to a potentially abusive home, because no checking is done. And there's the situation where you not only have to tell your kid some day that he was adopted, but also how much he cost.  [From: The Business of Selling a Baby ]

The article about a questionable adoption agency includes a statement by a worried pre-paid PAP:  "We would love it if our adoption would be finalized, but my gut is telling me that that's not going to happen. I hope I'm wrong,"

Is this really all PAP's worry about... whether they get "their" pre-purchased child or not?

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