Child: U.S. Adoption Agency Bought Me

Date: 2010-02-15
Source: cbsnews.com

CBS News Investigates Serious Questions about the Legitimacy of Some Ethopian Adoptions

By Armen Keteyian

(CBS)  Videotapes showing poor orphans from third world countries melt the hearts of prospective parents every day in this country.

Three children, sisters from Ethiopia are shown in a video - ages, you are told, 7, 4 and 6. Their mother is dead, their father dying of AIDS. A life of prostitution is all but assured - if not adopted - saved - by a loving American family.

It was just such a pitch that spoke to Katie and Calvin Bradshaw, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian. They adopted all three girls through a U.S. agency, Christian World Adoption.

"Aside from the gender of the children, everything else proved to be a complete lie," said Katie.

In truth, the three sisters, Journee, Maree and Meya - were actually much older: 13, 6 and 11.

While their mother was dead, their father was healthy and very much alive. He was living, by local standards, a middle-class life - an extended family able to take care of the girls as middle sister Meya showed us first hand.

"My godmothers, my aunt, those are my mom's friends, my uncles, my dad, my dad's friends, that's my brother," she said.

In the last year adoptions from Ethiopia to the U.S. have skyrocketed - growing faster than any other country in the world. They have risen from 731 in 2006 to more than 2,200 last year. That's nearly six children per day.

Now a CBS News investigation has discovered that growth has turned Ethiopia into fertile ground for child trafficking - a country in which some American agencies and their staff engage in highly questionable conduct.

Adoptive families allege that many children brought to the U.S. are not even orphans, that prospective parents are misled about a child's health and background, that local families are recruited - and sometimes even paid - to give up their kids.

Which the Bradshaw sisters say is exactly what happened to them.

"Your dad was paid," Keteyian asked Meya.

"Yes," she said.

"From Christian World Adoption," Keteyian asked.

"Yeah," she replied.

"For you to be adopted?"

"Yup."

"You were sold?"

"Yeah," she said.

Christian World Adoption is one of 70 agencies licensed to operate in Ethiopia. Beyond the alleged payment to their father, the Bradshaw sisters say they were told by local employees of Christian World they were only coming to America for an education; that they could return home when school was out. Not true. In fact it's virtually impossible to reverse an adoption in Ethiopia.

"I thought I was going to be kind of like an exchange student," Journee said. "Honestly, I never knew that I'm going to be here forever."

"We have watched our kids grieve and cry and scream and melt down from the bottom of their souls over the loss of their country and their family," Katie Bradshaw said.

A 2007 video shows Christian World representatives entering an Ethopian village and appearing to recruit children from poor villagers - an unethical practice against Ethopian law.

"If you want your child to be adopted by a family in America you may stay," said Michelle Gardner. She spoke those words on a tape produced by Christian World for American parents seeking to adopt in Ethiopia. And now says she deeply regrets it.

"I was aware of a number of times when things were problematic," she said. "And several families where children came over and the children didn't understand that the adoption was permanent."

Christian World was founded back in 1991 by Bob and Tomilee Harding. In 2008, records show, the non-profit agency took in nearly $6 million dollars - charging a fee of about $15,000 per child.

Citing ongoing litigation, the Hardings declined to speak with CBS News at their offices in Charleston, South Carolina.

One such case, filed last month, includes charges of "wrongful adoption," "fraud" and "intentional misrepresentation."

"How do you respond to charges that CWA knowingly deceived or misled adoptive parents through the adoption process in Ethopia?" Keteyian asked.

"Those allegations are completely unfounded," said Curtis Bostic, attorney for CWA. He told CBS News he was prohibited by law from discussing specific adoption cases.

"I'm talking to parents who are really upset," Keteyian said. "Who are devastated with their dealings with CWA."

"Sometimes, people are upset when they just simply misunderstand things," Bostic said. "I believe that's exactly what you're hearing. There have been thousands and thousands of adoptions conducted by CWA all over the world. Is there going to be a handful of folks who misunderstand, who - or who aren't happy with their adoption? There's going to be, and we regret that."

The Bradshaw family lives with its own set of regrets. Parents who trusted and believed they were doing the right thing. The three young girls are learning to adopt a life far from the country they still call home.

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What a sweet deal!

Charges include "wrongful adoption," "fraud" and "intentional misrepresentation", but law prohibits further, detailed discussion.  This not being able to speak badly about an adoption agency rule is quite interesting.... isn't it?

Meanwhile,  in 2008, the non-profit agency took in nearly $6 million dollars - charging a fee of about $15,000 per child.  [Remember folks, "non-profit" does not mean "without salary" for those running and operating an adoption agency.]

Last but not least, this last bit of good news for those facing a difficult adaptation to adoption....

the Bradshaw sisters say they were told by local employees of Christian World they were only coming to America for an education; that they could return home when school was out. Not true. In fact it's virtually impossible to reverse an adoption in Ethiopia.

Seems the only time an adoption can be reversed is when the buyers not longer want the child they purchased.  Although in PAL-speak, this is called a "disruption".  See:  Disrupted Placements.  Where some of these "orphans" go is any person's guess.

How about that Attorney for Christian World?

What an asswipe.  "the Bradshaws didn't understand, and we have many ex- Christian World families that are happy"

WTF is there to understand when the girls are saying their father sold his relinquishment rights and their ages weren't even correct.

What happened to accountability in this country and the world?  Ethiopia should be accountable to its people, Adoption agency should be accountable to what is right for the children not their pocketbook.

I smell the end of Ethiopian adoptions very soon my friends,,, another Guatemala is brewing. 

CWA

Christian World Adoption was already the focus of the Fly away children documentary, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired last September. They have been involved in a case of mixing up babies form Ethiopia. This case once more proves CWA is one of those agencies that care little about ethics as long as they can place as many children as they possibly can.

In CWA's case money doesn't necessarily be the primary motivating factor. Although Tomilee Harding as CEO of the organization is not poorly paid ($110,665 in 2008), it is relatively low compared to top excutives of other comparibly sized adoption agencies. CWA's motivation seems mostly evangelical in nature. Charles Loring Brace already proved with the orphan train movement that evangelization and the best interest of the child are often conflicting interests.

Of course the Better Business Bureau gives CWA an A+ rating.

This is CWAs statement about this

Of course riddled with religious rants, they even compared the persecution of Jesus Christ to their own persecution.  I wrote them back and told them to NEVER compare themselves to Jesus Christ - what a bunch of lying bible thumping freaks! What a "crock"

CWA STATEMENT CONCERNING CBS FEBRUARY 15 BROADCAST
 
It was with great disappointment that CWA was made aware of the various criticisms expressed by the Bradshaws to CBS news. In an effort to address each of these allegations, CWA agreed to an in-depth interview with CBS reporter Armen Keteyian. During the course of this interview, lasting well over an hour, CBS was provided facts and documents which discredit the allegations made against CWA. Instead of allowing its viewers to consider the position of both parties, CBS chose to exclude every piece of information provided by CWA during its lengthy interview.
 
Sadly, the appearance is that CBS is more interested in the sensational than the factual.
 
The truth is that CWA does not and has never given compensation of any kind to influence a parent to surrender a child for adoption. CBS was made aware that CWA workers had no contact with the parent in this video who allegedly “sold” his daughters. And, by virtue of the process in Ethiopia, CWA seldom has any contact whatsoever with relinquishing parents. An accurate understanding of the adoption process (as was provided CBS) bears this out:
 
 In Ethiopia, a relinquishing caregiver who seeks to have a child declared an “orphan” and available for adoption initiates the process by appearing before a local court with three witnesses. These four individuals must swear to the court that the child either has no parents or that the child’s surviving parent does not have the financial ability to care for the child. Should the local court make a finding of need based on the testimony of these four individuals, an investigation is triggered by Ethiopia’s social services department called “Ministry of Women’s Affairs” (MOWA). MOWA is then responsible to conduct its independent investigation as to the need of the child and render its findings, together with those of the local court, to a higher court for yet a third review into the need of the child.
 
This entire process is undertaken by the Ethiopian government, without any involvement by international adoption agencies. Most often, the entire process is completed before international adoption agencies like CWA are even made aware of the child. Finally, before a child can immigrate to the United States, the entire adoption, including the “orphan” status of each child is investigated by the United States government through the U.S. Consular’s office prior to a child’s visa being issued.
 
While paying a relinquishing caregiver for an adoptive child would be deplorable in any context, as it relates to Ethiopia the concept even violates common sense. This desperate country has an estimated 6,000,000 orphans of whom only .03% per year will be adopted into the United States. This means that for every child chosen for adoption there is a pool of approximately 3,000 legitimate candidates from whom to choose. There is never a justification for paying a parent to surrender a child, but in Ethiopia there is also no motive to do so. The sad fact is there is no lack of children in Ethiopia needing homes, and no motive to “buy” them. This is particularly true for children who are not infants or those in sibling groups, like the ones in the CBS interview. It is hard to imagine any adoption agency being willing to pay for a child and risk criminal conviction when Ethiopia has an enormous number who are legitimately available.
 
CBS chose to withhold all of this information from its viewers in exchange for the more fantastic notion that these children were simply “bought” from their father and offered to an American family for adoption. The CBS position is absurd and is a sad and revealing commentary on the reliability of CBS reporting.

CWA does not misrepresent the ages of adoptive children. As was explained to CBS, adoption agencies do not make age determinations. The age of a child is determined by the Ethiopian government during the governmental process of investigating the orphan status of the child. The age determined by the government is then documented by the government and made a part of the child’s adoptive record to be provided to adoption agencies. Adoption agencies are not given the liberty to change the determination made by the government.
 
CBS was also made aware of the fact that determining the accurate age of children adopted from Ethiopia presents unusual challenges. Many of these children have no birth record from which ages may be calculated; for others, the only record upon which the Ethiopian government has to relay is the oral testimony of a relinquishing caregiver. CWA is deliberate in its adoption materials to repeatedly advise parents to be cautious concerning the government’s represented ages of prospective children. CBS was provided copies of these documents and an article CWA requires adoptive parents to review and sign authored by a prominent orphan doctor discussing the difficulties in assigning an accurate age to children from Ethiopia. Finally, in order to assist parents in making their own determinations as to age, CWA provides pictures and videos of prospective children so parents are given the same graphic “evidence” of a child’s age as is presented to CWA.
 
When CWA suspects a wide age variation in the reported versus actual age of a child, CWA caseworkers communicate an additional warning to parents. This communication becomes part of the adoptive record. Additionally, because of the nature of the Ethiopian adoption process, further information regarding a child’s age may be forthcoming immediately prior to a child’s visa being issued; when this occurs, this information is also documented in the adoptive record. CBS is aware that the Bradshaws chose not to cooperate in allowing CWA to give CBS documents from the adoptive record regarding the children’s ages.
 
The mission of CWA is to see orphan children and capable families come together to form permanent, mutually-rewarding family bonds. CWA is not a “business.” Revenue generated from adoptions goes to support the services as well as ongoing efforts to place children in families and to feed, clothe, house, and educate those who can never be placed.
 
CWA does not expect that every individual hearing the accusations will find no fault with CWA. All CWA would ask is for an opportunity to be heard and for open minds to consider all the facts before reaching a conclusion.

 

and yesterday’s statement with further information:

 

Our agency has been in the news recently, and has had to endure regrettable and false allegations of unethical adoption practices in Ethiopia. Because of this, CWA has undertaken a time-consuming and costly investigation of our Ethiopian adoption program. We sent our very capable Christian attorney to Ethiopia to get accurate information about these allegations. The allegations were aired last September by Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) broadcast entitled "Fly Away Children."

In order to set the record straight, CWA has posted an 8-part videotaped response on YouTube. An ABC reporter interviewed our attorney, Curtis Bostic, on January 22. We have posted the interview in it's entirety for our families to watch, listen, and make their own conclusions.

You may read our agency's written statement here:

  http://www.cwa.org/ethiopia-statement.htm

And you may view the video series here:

   http://www.youtube.com/user/ChristianWorldAdopt

Because we are a Christian agency, it comes as no surprise that attacks, slander, and false reports come against us and the work we do. Jesus endured the same. We understand that such hostilities are not led by people, but demonic forces of evil. Our work is confirmed because it is opposed.

CWA's mission has always been to help place orphans into permanent, loving families. By God's grace and help, we intend to continue doing just that.

Christian World Adoption

 

Forced Assimilation is never in anyone's best interests...

...except the majority's.

That's why we see all these children being shoved overwhelmingly into white xn households, not any other kind of households.

I hope they can escape as soon as possible.

Ripoff artists, for people offering themselves to be ripped off

Poor APs, they find out they're no messiahs, but instead are marks in a confidence trick.

"(Also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, swindle or bamboozle)"

Pity.

Ethiopian professor and writer writes about Ethiopian Adoptions

Ethiopia: The Hand That Rocks the Broken Cradle, Part II

February 22nd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Alemayehu G. Mariam

When I wrote Part I of “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” nearly a year and eight months ago[1], the heartbreaking and outrageous scandal in the broken adoption system in Ethiopia was a shocking molestation crime committed against two recently adopted Ethiopian children — one barely 2 and the other 4 years old — by their French parents. The father was jailed for rape and violence, and the mother for failure to report a crime. The attitude of the Ethiopian adoption officials interviewed in that case was a nauseatingly indifferent, “S_ _ t happens!”

I was so incensed and dismayed by the responses of the adoption bureaucrats that I wrote in Part I, “The inattentive listener could easily mistake the interview of these bureaucrats as a conversation with commodities traders on the Chicago Board of Trade on a bad day than officials involved in caring for the most vulnerable children from one of the poorest countries in the world.” Little did I know at the time how close I had come to the truth: I was indeed listening to some cold-blooded and pitiless bureaucrats from the Ethiopian Adoption Board of Trade! In a videotaped interview last week, an adopted child from Ethiopia said she and her two sisters were “sold” into adoption after Christian World Adoption (CWA) “paid” off their father.

The official position of the dictatorship in Ethiopia is that most children adopted by foreigners are actually orphans, or abandoned and parentless street waifs; and but for the foreign adoptions, these children would likely die from neglect or hardship. That is simply not true. Many of the adopted children have parents and families, some of whom are relatively well off by local standards. The fact of the matter is that in Ethiopia there is a cottage industry in child trafficking under the cover of adoption. CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian last week charged that the adoption system in Ethiopia is so corrupt and those who operate it so crooked that “Ethiopia has turned into fertile ground for child trafficking”.[2]

In the last year adoptions from Ethiopia to the U.S. have skyrocketedgrowing faster than any other country in the world. They have risen from 731 in 2006 to more than 2,200 last year. That’s nearly six children per day.  Now a CBS News investigation has discovered that growth has turned Ethiopia into fertile ground for child trafficking – a country in which some American agencies and their staff engage in highly questionable conduct. Adoptive families allege that many children brought to the U.S. are not even orphans, that prospective parents are misled about a child’s health and background, that local families are recruited – and sometimes even paid – to give up their kids.

The evidence uncovered by Keteyian showed three sisters — ages 4, 6 and 7– were adopted by an American family on representations by CWA that “their mother is dead, their father dying of AIDS [and]a life of prostitution is all but assured – if [they are] not adopted – saved – by a loving American family.” Katie Bradshaw, the mother of the three children told Keteyian, “Aside from the gender of the children, everything else proved to be a complete lie.” In fact, “the three sisters, Journee, Maree and Meya – were actually much older: 13, 6 and 11. While their mother was dead, their father was healthy and very much alive. He was living, by local standards, a middle-class life – an extended family able to take care of the girls as middle sister Meya showed us first hand.” The Bradshaw’s case is merely the tip of the iceberg of adoption horror stories in Ethiopia.

CWA was quick to throw the Ethiopian regime, its officials and judicial system right under a speeding  bus. In a statement on its website, CWA denied any responsibility for factual misrepresentations and saddled the regime with full responsibility[3]:

An investigation is done by the children’s home, the police, the Kebele (local elected officials), and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA). The police and the Kebele are responsible for investigating the relinquishing parent’s claims… The determination as to whether a child is adoptable can only be made by a court through a formal, detailed legal process. It is not a determination made by a humanitarian aid organization, an adoption agency, or a child’s community. It can only be made by the Ethiopian judicial system.

CWA, a non-profit agency established in 1991, “collected $6 million dollars – charging a fee of about $15,000 per child in 2008,” the going rate in Ethiopia, according to the CBS investigation. But the Bradshaws and their three children have collected nothing but profound grief and sorrow: “We have watched our kids grieve and cry and scream and melt down from the bottom of their souls over the loss of their country and their family,” declared Katie Bradshaw in despair.

The CBS investigation is not the first to reveal child trafficking in Ethiopia’s corrupt adoption system. In  September 2009, Mary Ann Jolley of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Aunty [ABC]) reported that the adoption agencies do not go to orphanages to get children for adoption but “harvest” them in the countryside and commoditize them[4]:

There was something incredibly disturbing about seeing international adoption en masse. All these [Ethiopian] children about to leave their country to begin a new life in a faraway place, disconnected from their heritage and culture… Foreigners prefer younger children – babies to five-year-olds. Older children or those with health problems are more difficult to pitch. So while many children languish in underfunded and overcrowded orphanages, some international adoption agencies are out spruiking [marketing promotions] in villages asking families to relinquish their children for adoption. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘harvesting’ and it’s shocking to see…There are more than 70 private international adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia… Almost half the agencies in Ethiopia are unregistered, some doing whatever they can to find children to satisfy the foreign market… No one disputes there is a real need for international adoptions, but for the sake of the children and adoptive parents there needs to be some protection from unscrupulous agencies who purport to be driven by humanitarian interests, but in reality are stuffing their pockets with dirty cash.

Partly based on the ABC investigation, in November 2009, the Australian Attorney General[5] “decided that the Ethiopia–Australia program should be suspended because of concerns that Australia can no longer conduct intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia in a manner consistent with its obligations under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption.”  In a curiously phrased statement, the Attorney General explained, “A key reason for the suspension is a new requirement of the Ethiopian Government that the [intercountry adoption] program enter into a formal agreement to provide community development assistance.” In other words, an agreement for a child trafficking-extortion racket in which development assistance is exchanged for Ethiopian babies!!

The documented fact is that there is a not-so-hidden cottage industry in Ethiopia that trades and traffics in children under the benign cover of charitable adoptions. The ruling dictatorship has been aware of the problem for several years but has failed to undertake a single investigation of the allegations in the media and individual complaints of adoptive parents, or identify and prosecute those involved in child “harvesting”, trafficking and sale. It is inexplicable why the matter has failed to attract the slightest official attention: Could it be a manifestation of the regime’s depraved and criminal indifference to the human rights of these children? Could it be because the regime does not believe it has moral responsibility for the welfare of these children? Or could it be that some powerful individuals are involved in the “harvesting” and commoditization of children?

The fact of the matter is that the dictatorship in Ethiopia has a legally binding duty under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) [Ethiopia adopted by accession on May 14, 1991] to ensure the welfare of these children. Under Art. 21 (d) of the CRC, the dictatorship has a mandatory legal duty to “Take all appropriate measures to ensure that, in inter-country adoption, the placement does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it.” Under Article 11 (1), the regime is required to “take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.” (See also Article 19 (1) (2).)  Under Article 13 (2) of the “Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”, the dictatorship has an obligatory duty to carry out its international treaty obligations and protect the rights of these children.

What must be done to save Ethiopian children from “harvesting” and commoditization?

Three things must be done immediately. First, the rule of law must be upheld. The dictatorship must live up to its mandatory and obligatory duties under its constitution, international treaties and its own criminal laws. The dictatorship has at its disposal all of the legal tools necessary to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations involved in or suspected of child trafficking. Article 597 (1) (2) of the dictatorship’s Penal Code imposes a prison sentence of 5-20 years against anyone engaging in “trafficking in women and children… by violence, threat, deceit, fraud, kidnapping or by the giving of money or other advantage to the person having control over a woman or a child…” Severe criminal liability also attaches to anyone who aids and abets in trafficking in children and women.

There is substantial evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the adoption process. Foreign adoptive parents would be willing to come forward and give evidence on the fraudulent practices used to sell children to them in the name of adoption. There is also evidence gathered by independent news agencies pointing to criminal wrongdoing by those involved in the adoption process. The dictatorship has a legal and moral duty to immediately suspend all adoptions and launch an investigation to determine the scope, severity and magnitude of the child trafficking problem, take appropriate measures to prosecute offenders and establish rigorous procedures that will prevent any future recurrences.

Second, action must be taken to deal with the structural defects in the adoption system by acceding (signing) to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption (entered into force 1995). Australia suspended its intercountry adoption program in Ethiopia because it concluded that the Ethiopian adoption system does not conform to or is in violation of the Hague Convention. The purpose of the Convention is “to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights as recognized in international law” (Art. 1 (a)), and to “prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children” (Preamble).  The Convention has been adopted by South Africa, Kenya, Togo, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mauritius and Madagascar, among dozens of other countries.

Third, the regime must also sign the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (“Palermo Trafficking Protocol”, entered into force, 2003). The Protocol, among other things, requires signatories to criminalize the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, facilitates return and acceptance of children who have been victims of cross-border trafficking, and provides for the confiscation of the instruments and proceeds of trafficking and related offenses to be used for the benefit of trafficked persons. Some 118 countries have adopted the Protocol including Kenya, Uganda, Djbouti, Niger, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, The Congo, Sierra Leone and dozens of other countries.

If it is any comfort to Katie and Calvin Bradshaw, they should know that it is not only their three children who “grieve and cry and scream and melt down from the bottom of their souls over the loss of their country and their family.” There are 80 million others with them who also grieve and cry and scream and melt down from the bottom of their souls over the loss of their country…

SAVE ETHIOPIA’S FUTURE!           STOP “HARVESTING” OF ETHIOPIAN CHILDREN!

Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and his commentaries appear regularly on pambazuka.org, allafrica.com, newamericamedia.org and other sites.

 

[2] Story: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/15/cbsnews_investigates/main6210911.shtml?tag=currentVideoInfo;videoMetaInfo

Video:  http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6211026n&tag=related;photovideo

[3] http://www.cwa.org/ethiopia-statement.htm

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/15/2685853.htm

[5] http://www.ag.gov.au/www/agd/agd.nsf/Page/IntercountryAdoption_WhatsNew_WhatNew#Interim

Payments to Ethiopia soared before agency collapsed

By Brian Caldwell, The Record | March 1, 2010

CAMBRIDGE — Money going to an orphanage in Ethiopia allegedly soared in the year before an international adoption agency in Cambridge went bankrupt last summer.

The collapse of Imagine Adoption in July stunned more than 400 families hoping to adopt children and triggered a criminal fraud investigation.

Seven months later, with two Waterloo Regional Police investigators and an RCMP officer still working on it full-time, police are saying little about the case publicly.

But a court document used to obtain key financial records outlines the initial evidence and allegations against the non-profit agency’s top two officials — executive director Susan Hayhow and her husband, Rick, the former chief financial officer.

The document, called an information to obtain a search warrant, details allegedly suspicious actions that have not been proved in court and that have not been challenged by either Rick or Susan Hayhow. The Hayhows were not available for comment on allegations contained in the application.

Among the allegations in the search warrant application are that:

Payments to a transition home in Ethiopia — where the Christian agency kept orphaned children in the last stages of the lengthy adoption process — had climbed to $70,000 a month by May 2009.

A year earlier, according to meeting minutes of Imagine’s board of directors, the annual cost at the same transition home was $25,000 — or just over $2,000 a month.

The agency’s accountant did not know it had a corporate bank account in Ethiopia. He asked for financial records after learning of its existence, but never received cancelled cheques to account for payments.

The accountant was concerned about $30,000 to $40,000 a month in agency credit card expenses. He asked for statements, but never received them.

Questionable items charged to the cards included trips to Disney World, New York City and Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka. Others were for jewelry and a horse.

The accountant flagged numerous agency cheques as suspicious, including a $10,000 payment to Rick Hayhow that was not part of payroll. Landscaping and a $13,500 wrought-iron fence at the couple’s Cambridge house were also paid for with agency cheques.

Susan Hayhow gave herself a $30,000 raise the same month financial problems came to a head in June 2009, when board members seized control of the agency, cancelled its credit cards and stopped paying the Hayhows.

When asked to justify the raise at a meeting, Hayhow said she knew that a smaller, related agency — one of three operating under the Imagine Adoption name — would soon be shutting down and she would lose part of her pay.

The couple earned a combined income of $320,000 a year — $180,000 for Susan and $140,000 for Rick — by paying themselves separate amounts from two of the agencies. They both also drove leased luxury vehicles.

Alan Brown, the board member who went to police, was shocked by their salaries. He was also unaware of the arrangement allowing them to draw two pay cheques each for what was effectively one organization.

Susan Hayhow and her new boyfriend, Andrew Morrow, tried to restructure the failing agency using funds placed in trust for adoptive families. Their plan was denied by the provincial government.

Rick and Susan Hayhow separated about four months before the bankruptcy. Rick Hayhow resigned and was given severance pay of $140,000 — a year’s salary — without approval by the board.

Money moved among the three related agencies — Kids Link, St. Anne’s and Global Reach — without any supporting documentation.

Staff worried the waiting list for adoptions was too long and urged Susan Hayhow to stop taking on new clients.

Police detailed the evidence and allegations to get an order from a justice of the peace in late August for bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody to turn over extensive financial documents.

“I believe that cheques and credit card statements will show expenses of a personal nature, payroll records will show that Susan and Rick Hayhow overpaid themselves and bank records will show excessive funds were transferred to Ethiopia,” Const. Yvonne Heltke of Waterloo Regional Police wrote in an affidavit supporting the application.

Ethiopia expenses worried board member

Much of the evidence Heltke relied on came from Brown, a Cambridge businessperson and friend of the couple who was asked to become a volunteer board member just over a year before the agency went broke.

“They had skyrocketed,” Brown said of the Ethiopia expenses in a recent interview. “We had difficulty determining why it would cost that much money to run that size of a facility.”

Imagine began to unravel after it came to light that Susan Hayhow was having an affair with Morrow, an agency board member and employee of Global Reach whose wife, Teresa, also worked for the organization.

Brown started looking into its finances after finding out how much the Hayhows were paying themselves to run the four-year-old agency, which had offices on King Street in the Preston area of Cambridge.

By the time he went to police, Brown had turned up more than $300,000 in suspect expenses starting in January 2007. Records before that time couldn’t be found.

“When you see the (credit card) statements, they were living the life of the rich and famous,” he said. “How many families do you know that go to New York for five days and drop $13,000?”

Brown said credit card statements suggested they were routinely used for personal expenses, including shopping at high-end clothing stores, restaurants, and spas, and extensive cosmetic dental work.

“I’m sure Paris Hilton’s credit card statement looks like that,” he said. “The expenses we saw, there’s no way you could justify them.”

Susan Hayhow was with Morrow in Ethiopia when the bankruptcy was announced, jeopardizing the hopes of hundreds of families across Canada who had paid up to $15,000 to adopt children from overseas.

Susan Taves, the bankruptcy trustee for BDO, said Susan Hayhow offered early in the process to repay any expenses that weren’t legitimate.

Taves followed up and formally asked her for about $200,000.

“There was no money being offered at that point in time,” Taves said. “We got a fairly lengthy reply from her lawyer, but no funds.”

Susan Hayhow and Morrow have since sold their fully-renovated, stone home in Cambridge. A real estate listing for $475,000 described it as “done to the nines.”

Taves said Susan Hayhow told her in an email this month that she is travelling, doesn’t have a home address and can’t be easily reached. All future contact was directed to her lawyer.

Olaf Heinzel, a spokesperson for regional police, said investigators have heard she might be in Ethiopia, but haven’t been able to confirm it.

Rick Hayhow, who owned the large stone house with his wife before they separated, also couldn’t be reached for comment.

Following months of turmoil and uncertainty, the core adoption agency was salvaged with a new board of directors and a stripped-down staff.

Adoptions have since resumed after a majority of clients voted to pay an extra $4,000 each to put it back on solid financial footing.

Oh, those poor bankrupt people

Boo Hoo... let's all feel sorry for those losing money through foreign adoption.

Imagine Adoption proves what an agency can do and get away with, just to get salaries paid.

AP's feed the beast, then complain when an orphan child isn't delivered.

It would be comical, if so many weren't being used and later, abused.

Pound Pup Legacy