Couple under scrutiny fought to adopt twins

Date: 2011-02-18

By PAT BEALL

In lengthy, single-spaced letters to Gov. Charlie Crist, Jorge and Carmen Barahona in 2007 portrayed themselves as loving and misunderstood parents, suggested they were victims of little more than a witch hunt by a guardian ad litem for their twins and pleaded for intervention from Tallahassee.

"If we have done anything wrong then let us be held accountable for it, which we have not done anything to (these) children," the couple wrote in letters obtained by The Palm Beach Post. "Just give them all the Unconditional Love a father and mother have for them."

The Barahonas became foster parents to twin brother and sister Victor and Nubia in 2004 and moved to adopt them in 2008, the year after letters complained of unfair interference from guardian ad litem Paul Neumann. Neumann had been appointed to oversee the interest of the twins pending the adoption.

"We were home raising our children with love, as any father and mother would do," when Neumann began raising questions, the couple wrote. "We did what any parent would do for their children, we stood up for them to protect them."

Florida Department of Children and Families officials acknowledge they received four calls to their abuse hot line after the children went to live with the Barahonas, three of them before the adoption.

On Thursday, 53-year-old Jorge Barahona was charged with attempted murder and is being held without bail in the Palm Beach County Jail. He was found in West Palm Beach this week with the body of Nubia, 10, in a black garbage bag in the back of his pickup. Victor was convulsing on the front seat. The children had been doused in still-unidentified chemicals. Victor is listed in critical condition in the burn unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

His adoptive mother, 60-year-old Carmen Barahona, had not been charged as of Friday despite indications there were serious problems in the home. The couple's other two adopted children have been removed from the home and placed in state custody.

As for the Barahonas' contentious relationship with Neumann, the twins' guardian, Sonia Ferrer, head of Miami-Dade County's guardian ad litem program, confirmed Neumann expressed reservations about the Barahona adoption to a judge. But she declined to detail the concerns.

Neumann also confirmed that he raised objections at the time of the adoption. He said he could not discuss the case publicly without the consent of his superiors because of privacy concerns.

The Barahonas' four letters, redacted by state officials, never spell out the specific allegations made by Neumann, or the nature of the dispute with the guardian ad litem. But they document a frequently bitter diatribe aimed at eliminating any barriers to the twins' adoption.

In their May 2007 letter to a private agency overseeing the adoption for the state, the couple protested, "We have never had any problems with any caseworker or anyone else that has been assigned to our home. Now we understand we are being taken to court on allegations. This is being done behind our backs.

"All we would like is to be treated fairly; we feel that we deserve at least that much," the couple continued. "We love our children very much and we will do whatever we need to do for them."

The following month, the couple wrote to Crist, prefacing their complaint with a description of their home life. "It has taken us 10 years as foster parents to build our family. Our home has never been an in and out home for foster children." The twins, they wrote, "have already (built) a bond with us.

"There has never been any neglect on our part we are being falsely accused of these things by Mr. Neumann," with whom they had "a personality conflict from the beginning because of his arrogance and smart remarks," they wrote.

The governor's office forwarded the letter to DCF, according to the Barahonas' next letter in August. The couple wrote of a June court hearing on removing the children from the home, saying, "We were humiliated, in front of everybody, we were portrayed as dirty and uncaring parents. For how long is this going to continue?"

Five months later, the couple wrote a shorter letter to Crist. "After my second letter to you, we saw hope regarding our situation," they wrote. " Hopefully the next time we write to you it will be to let you know that we have finalized the adoption."

Staff writer Joel Engelhardt contributed to this story

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