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.

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Ethics and money

As usual with agencies that scam adoptive parents, there are many more ethical issues that weigh even heavier than financial loss, but that often don't lead to closing down an agency. Such is the case with Adoptions by Choice too. The agency had previously been confronted with coersion and with violation of father's rights. Still they managed to stay in business. Now, finally, when people lose money and not a mere child, is the judicial system prepared to take action.

Nodding in agreement

Now, finally, when people lose money and not a mere child, is the judicial system prepared to take action.

I, personally, have grown very tired of the way in which "adoption-scams" are presented by the media.  It's a scam when a PAP loses money... but it's business as usual when a) children are wrongly removed from parents, or b) children with many hidden problems are being sold "as is", just to feed the paying-demand.

If losing money is the worst "crime" a person has to endure, I consider that person one lucky bastard.

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