Ex-adoption agency director pleads guilty to bilking adoptive parents
By Kevin Graham
October 26, 2009 / tampabay.com
TAMPA — The former director of a Tampa Bay area adoption agency pleaded guilty Monday to bilking adoptive parents out of more than $178,000.
Debra W. West, 58, must repay the money she stole to avoid prison.
Her plea to a charge of grand theft calls for $100,000 in restitution to be paid by Jan. 25 and the remaining balance to be paid by March 22. If West completes the payments, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente will then sentence her to 15 years of probation.
West, former executive director for Adoptions by Choice, embezzled money that clients paid her agency to be used on expenses for birth mothers, said Dan Weisman, a prosecutor with the Florida Attorney General's Office.
According to Weisman, West and her agency kept some of the money for themselves then created fake documents and lied to adoptive parents about how their money was spent. The scheme lasted from about August 2002 through May 2005, Weisman said in court.
The names of the 20 couples listed as victims, as well as the adopted children and birth mothers, have been sealed by court order.
Prosecutors said many of the fraudulent claims by West were for hospital-related expenses for the birth mother's pregnancy when in fact the birth mothers were covered by Medicaid or private insurance.
The Florida Department of Children and Families revoked West's license in 2005, but she continued working in adoptions for another year through another child care organization, which eventually revoked her authority, the state said.
West's husband, Jim West, former news director at WTVT-Ch. 13, spoke on his wife's behalf after Monday's court hearing.
"We believe that today's agreement represents the best interest of Debbie and the victims in the case," Jim West said.
He said the more than 30 years Debra West worked in adoption brought children to many homes and her services left many people happy and satisfied.
"I think her record will speak for itself," he said.