I-Team investigates international adoption facilitator
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By Dan Noyes
November 20, 2012 / KGO-TV
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Families across the country have trusted a Santa Clara County man to help adopt Ukrainian children. But there are concerns that aren't getting full story when it comes to the kids' mental health.
The family profiled in this story thought they were adopting healthy children from the Ukraine, a boy and a girl. They found out later the kids actually came from a mental institution and have serious problems. How could they not know before opening their hearts and their homes?
"This has been probably the hardest thing. I can't imagine going through anything worse than what we've been through in the last 19 months," XXX [name removed] said.
Lorie and Jason XXX [name removed] thought they were doing the right thing -- the North Carolina couple decided to adopt two children from an orphanage in the Ukraine, but now say they were misled by the people who were supposed to make sure the adoptions went smoothly.
"It has destroyed our family, it has literally destroyed our family," Lorie said.
In April 2010, the couple learned about the plight of Ukrainian orphans from a church group.
"I cried through the presentation that they did," Lorie said.
The XXX' [name removed] were hooked. The church group introduced them to David Avilla, who runs Advocate for Orphans out of his Gilroy home. Avilla charged them $4,875 for "adoption facilitation services."
"He's supposed to make sure that we have all the information that we need," Jason XXX [name removed] said.
They agreed to adopt 9-year-old Sveta before even meeting her. And after Jason went on a mission trip to the Ukraine and saw the living conditions at the Dzhankoi orphanage, the family also decided to adopt 14-year-old Alec.
"You want to get them out of there because it is a horrible physical environment," Jason said.
They say Avilla never raised any concerns about the children's health. They received just a few sheets on each child, written in Ukrainian, which glossed over some serious issues.
When they arrived home with the kids, they experienced the first signs of trouble with Sveta.
"She hits and she kicks and she threatens to commit suicide. She's threatened to kill everybody in our family," Lorie said.
The XXX' [name removed] brought Sveta and Alec to neuropsychologist Dr. Ron Federici.
"It was very clear that these two children have very significant developmental neurological disabilities," Federici said.
Federici diagnosed Sveta with 12 psychological and developmental disorders. She now lives in a mental hospital in North Carolina. Alec was diagnosed with seven disorders.
"They should not have been made available except to a family who openly and willingly stated, 'I want the most severely handicapped and disabled child who has fetal alcohol, drug exposure, brain damage,'" Federici said.
The XXX' [name removed] had no idea what they were getting into. They say they discovered later that the Ukrainian orphanage was actually an asylum.
"This was never disclosed to us by anyone," Jason said.
The family believes Avilla should have told them about the children's condition and about the orphanage.
"He should've known; he was paid to know," Lorie said.
ABC7 News featured Avilla in a story about his adoption program here in the Bay Area back in 2008 -- a program similar to the one the XXX' [name removed] heard about in North Carolina.
Avilla brings Ukrainian orphans in a group to meet American families.
"Eighty percent of the kids that come over find a family that adopts them eventually," Avilla told ABC7 News in 2008.
Avilla declined to be interviewed when contacted by the I-Team. After the I-Team spotted him in Gilroy, he took us on a tour of the town and stopped at the police station -- officers warned him to follow traffic rules. The I-Team's Dan Noyes approached as he rushed into his home.
"I need to talk to you," Noyes said. "David, really? Come on. You're going to put a jacket over your head? Are you being straight with families about the kids they're adopting?"
Avilla did give Jason and Lorie a contract with a clause that "Health of Child ... cannot be guaranteed. Parent is encouraged to seek the advice of medical professionals with expertise in international pediatrics prior to and during their adoption process."
In California, adoption facilitators like Avilla must register with the state. Avilla and his Advocate for Orphans was registered, but lapsed in 2010.
"If someone doesn't have that registration, then that is an issue that they may be operating illegally," Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Tina Nunes-Ober said.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office says there have been no complaints filed against Avilla.
"That is obviously something that we would want to investigate; we look at both sides, we're fair to everyone," Nunes-Ober said.
Lorie and Jason say they will be filing a complaint against Avilla and they are spreading the word about their adoption experience, hoping it's not repeated by other families.
"We brought these children here with hope and there's such a loss of hope," Lorie said.
The I-Team spoke with the family who was featured in the 2008 story. They say they are happy with Avilla's services, but admit their adopted son has had behavior problems as well. As for the XXX [name removed] family, Jason and Lorie visit Sveta in the institution and are paying for the services. Alec is in high school and his parents are still worried about his future. Jason and Lorie are paying for the services for their children