How Seymour Fenichel affected my life: The story of the grey market baby business

Relates to:
Date: 2011-08-05

Hundreds of adopted children, many struggling with their identity, all over the country, have a strong common bond – they’re ‘grey market’ babies.

By Dana C. Silano

Seymour Fenichel was reportedly the ringleader of the extensive illegal system of adoption, the baby selling business. He, alongside other lawyers and doctors, is said to have hosted homes in New York, Florida and Pennsylvania; where expectant mothers were --in some cases -- paid $2,000-$8,000 for their babies, who were ‘sold to the highest bidder.’ Couples who could not bear children could buy a child for tens of thousands of dollars.

At least one such case happened right here in Utica, at what is now the St. Luke’s campus of Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare. That’s where Beni Cunningham was born on New Year’s Eve of 1974. It’s where her adoptive parents picked her up, watching a blonde woman get into a waiting taxi to leave without a trace after handing Cunningham over.

“I do not believe that being a grey market baby is a disgrace or shameful,” she said. “It is just another piece of our story. We were all destined to be brought together, to have a kinship to share our feelings and to help each other.”

Now living in Arizona, as she takes the final steps to possibly meeting her birth family, Cunningham ends a life-long search. It’s been nothing short of difficult, she said.

“Searching is difficult because you do not know if the information you do have is correct,” Cunningham said. “I often felt I was on wild goose chase, but I persevered. The obstacles I have faced are mostly from the state of New York, which has laws in place that keep my original birth certificate sealed. I have experienced criticisms from people I have contacted who have said, Just move on with your life, don’t interrupt your parent’s lives, and be grateful for the parents you do have.”


The law finally caught up with the lawyer in the late 1980s. According to online records, Fenichel was indicted on more than 100 charges in Supreme Court in 1989:

  • Six counts of first-degree scheming to defraud
  • 19 counts of second-degree grand larceny
  • Nine counts of third-degree grand larceny
  • One count of fourth-degree grand larceny
  • 47 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing
  • Eight counts of second-degree perjury
  • 14 counts of first-degree making an apparently sworn false statement
  • One count of fifth-degree conspiracy

In 1990, he pleaded guilty to just one count of second-degree grand larceny and one count of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. Later that year he was sentenced to five years of probation and 2,000 hours of community service. He was banned from the state bar and could no longer practice as an attorney.

Fenichel died before his probation was up, in 1994. He was 70 years old.

Cunningham holds no ill will, but she said she wished Fenichel were alive to answer some questions she has.

“I would ask him of all the adoptions he facilitated,” she said, “overall the questions we needed answers to reunite every adoptee and first moms. I have nothing to tell him. I hold no anger or resentment. I do not understand why it has to be this way, but in the end he will get judged by God, not me.”


When Teri Beeler got pregnant at 16, she knew she couldn’t provide for her daughter everything she knew the baby deserved. She went to one of three houses in North Miami Beach, managed by a woman named Kathleen Flood.

“I was well taken care of,” Beeler recalled that time in her life, 36 years ago. “My parents also arranged for me to continue going to a private school while I was there, so I wouldn't miss my education. Kathleen took me to my doctor’s appointments. My parents visited, I was allowed to go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The last week of pregnancy my Mom stayed nearby, and was with me helping me walk to move the labor along.”

In fact, all Beeler saw of ‘Baby Girl Hayes’ was a reflection of the actual process of giving birth to the baby in the doctor’s glasses. That was February 15, 1975 at Osteopathic General Hospital.

“I have a lot of information my mom left me, including my medical records of her birth where they have typo-ed my maiden name that she may be using to search,” Beeler said, explaining that ‘Hays’ is correct, ‘Hayes’ is a typo. “I also have the prints of her feet. It is all I have of her physicality, something I have held on to."

Cunningham and Beeler are pictured above.


Baby Hayes was transferred to another hopspital and released on March 2, 1975, Beeler said, either to foster care or to adoptive parents.

“I have always assumed she went to New York, since that was where all the babies went,” she said. “I remember that every time one of the girls had a baby, the bustle around the house was that ‘someone from New York’ was coming."

That someone, Beeler said, was likely Fenichel or one of his colleagues.

“We went to the attorney’s office (in Miami) where I signed papers,” after she had the baby, Beeler said. “I recall the secretary – Notary, Helen Hooker -- holding a paper over top of the ones I was signing to hide information. As I signed one of the pages, I saw a name: Roberta(o) Cortes(z). I don’t know what relation that person has to my case. I never heard the name before. My assumption has always been that he/she was the adopting parent.”

The homes Flood managed were actually rented out by Miami lawyer Theodore Trushin. Flood was given immunity later on in exchange for testimony in regard to the grey market baby cases.

“My parents hired Julius Friedman (of N. Miami Beach), for representation," Beeler said of her adoption case. "I didn't know Fenichel was involved until I found his name on a letter from my attorney regarding a hospital bill.”

Beeler continues to search for her daughter.

"I have always wanted to find her and hoped she would look for me as well," she said.


Sara Hudson (right) was born in Smithtown, New York and now lives in Virginia. She had a less-than-happy childhood and decided she wanted to find her birth mother and inquired key information from her adoptive parents.

A group named Fenichel & Lauer facilitated the adoption, Hudson said.

"I poked around on Google and was absolutely shocked to discover exactly who, and what this group was. I called my adoptive mother ... and she advised me that she knew almost nothing of the situation, save for a few details regarding my biological parents. She said that Fenichel had told them that my mother was 'very, very young, and very, very pretty, and she had auburn hair,' and that 'she was working in a bakery in Smithtown, New York, and my father was a Park Ranger,' and also that my grandfather was away working on the Alaska Pipeline and knew nothing of the pregnancy, which 'needed to remain a secret.' Surprisingly this information turned out to largely be true."

After suffering a pulmonary embolism, Hudson said she was asked by medics many questions regarding her medical history. She had few answers.

Via some serious research that her and her police investigator husband pilfered through, incluing records, phone books and a Facebook search, Hudson found her mother, and many other family members. She called Kathleen Akeson Rhodes on June 25, 34 years to the date of her adoption. It’s amazing, she said, that she’s reached the point she’d dreamed of. She planned to meet them Sunday, August 7.

"Finding them has gone way beyond worthwhile," she said. "(It's) been like finding that one elusive puzzle piece that helps to put into perspective a much larger image. I imagine it's rather like putting on a pair of glasses and bringing into focus so many things that have always been blurry, or down right impossible to see. These people all look so much like me! And it's as if I have known them all my life."

Sara's birth parents are pictured to the left.

Now, Hudson said, she knows she has ethnic roots: She's Irish, Swedish and Native American. She can walk into the doctor's office with a family medical history, and one day tell her children about their family tree, she said.


The Fenichel connection reached Facebook. Cunningham was one of several adoptees who founded Seymour Fenichel Adoptees and First Moms, and thus far 95 people have liked the page, nearly all of them with a connection to Fenichel and his grey market enterprise.

“I am working on a list I that holds 18 first moms who surrendered their children to Fenichel for adoption,” Cunningham said. “My goal is to educate them on adoption laws, forums for communication with other first moms, and if they want information on how to start their own search. We are all in this together and our goal is not to give up until everyone is reunited.”

If you or someone you know is looking for answers in connection to a Fenichel adoption, reach out to them on Facebook by clicking here.


Shame on Beni Cunningham and Teri Beeler

Wow....Beni Cunningham and Teri Beeler should be ashamed of themselves. For Beni to try so blantantly to imply and take credit for founding the Facebook page dedicated to helping Fenichel adoptees when she knows the only thing she did was copy and steal the idea from an already existing Seymour Fenichel Adoptees Facebook page (which she was a member of) from someone she befriended, used and now stalks and harrasses on Facebook. Then, after creating the copycat page, to use it as a vehicle to solicit funds to serve their own needs and pay for the costs of their own personal fees to a hired investigator. Both have set up paypal accounts and posted on their copycat page soliciting funds and Teri Beeler even went as far as sending out emails asking for funds. Months ago, when confronted, Beni outright denied being a founder/administrator on the copycat page, but now she takes credit for it in this article when it gets her some of the attention she apparently needs to make herself feel good about herself. Here is the link to the real and original Seymour Fenichel and Adoptees Facebook page... a page will you will recieve actual help and useful information for you own searches and not be solicited for funds from the admins to pay their own expenses for their searches.!/SeymourFenichelAdoptees

You mean

You mean the ones with first moms is the BOGUS group

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