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The Devil Went Down to Georgia


When in 1985, Seymour Kurtz incorporated his Homes for Children International, he was probably not the first to use the state of Georgia, to make money out of the trade of children, but he certainly was not the last.

In october 2006, Atlanta's WSB-TV channel 2's action news presented this news. Alpharetta police had opened a criminal investigation into international adoption services company AmRex for having pocketed $500,000 in fees paid by prospective adoptive parents.

Where Kurtz, in the 1980's had been called a baby-broker, times had changed in the new century, Sergey Zasyatkin and his ex-wife Marina Zakharova going by the more respectful sounding title of adoption facilitators. Though much like Kurtz, they had a complex network of organizations and affiliations, all starting and ending with AmRex.

Unlike Kurtz and his generation these were not lawyers, with a business interest in the trade of children, but linguists. Both Zasyatkin and Marina Zakharova held a degree in linguistics and so did several of their key staff-members, all of them from Russia, all of them fluent in English.

In a world where it is more important who you know than what you know, communication is key, especially when doing business abroad and AmRex was created to do business abroad. No coercion of young American women, like in the old days, just let the deplorable situation in Russia do its work, let the carnage take place there, and have a clean-cut American business do the “good work”.

The early years

Zasyatkin, who had come to the USA in the second half of the 1980's, started AmRex in 1992. This is what he has to say about it during the bankruptcy hearings of 2006:

Initially it was formed as a consultation company, but very soon there was – it was apparent that adoption agencies, who were the clients of consultation services, wanted to – wanted me to – basically wanted me to set up some international adoption program in different countries like Ukraine and Russia. And that’s how AmRex became a facilitation service. And later on it was – it was incorporated because it was growing fairly fast. And for that reason, it was incorporated in ’96.

Not much more can be found on the early years of AmRex, except for the statement of incorporation, but in 1998 things became more clear, when a team of adoption agencies, AmRex and the law firms, Pettigrew & Trippe, P.C. and Needle and Rosenberg formed an alliance under the name of adoptionagencies.org. Though nowhere is stated what agencies are exactly affiliated to this alliance, five of them were prominent on their website at the time:

  • Crossroads Adoption Services

  • Suncoast International Adoptions

  • Heritage Adoption Services

  • Adoption Placement

  • World Child International

Of these five, Suncoast International Adoptions and Adoption Placement are no longer in business, though the latter played an important role within the AmRex network for years. The relation between the other agencies and AmRex is not all that clear. None claimed to be creditors of AmRex when they filed chapter 11, so the collaboration must have ended long before AmRex went down. As of 2001 adoptionagencies.org no longer made any mention of the alliance and it was just an alias for the AmRex.org website, a website that is pivotal to the story.

How AmRex operated

With the “right” contacts in Russia, knowledge of the adoption process in Russia, a staff of translators in the USA and contact in the industry, AmRex was able to become the hub in the many spoked wheel that drove the adoption of many Russian children to the USA.

There had been photo listing websites before and there had been scams and a whole range of dubious internet practices; there had been facilitators operating in Russia and the other former Soviet republics, but none before had operated like AmRex did.

Working for over forty agencies at the same time, AmRex controlled the market in several regions in Russia and with their web-based computer system, they were able to do all the paperwork for the agencies affiliated. In fact agencies completely relinquished their control to AmRex, doing only the customer service themselves.

This is what Zasyatkin had to say about it:

Adoption agencies that want to place children from like internationally with adoptive parents in the US or other countries, they are usually social workers, and they don’t have the expertise required to go to foreign countries and set up complicated relationships and, you know, follow the guidelines, the red tape. And that’s why they go and hire on a contractual basis, or sometimes on like an employment basis, people with the – some sort of expertise in this area, you know, of how it works in other countries, like Russia and Kazakhstan.

And the only difference between those facilitators and AmRex is that AmRex became a corporate, or institutional, facilitator serving a high number of agencies versus where – in most of the times, it’s one person per agency. In this case, it was a multi-agency facilitator, and it was one of the first ones to do this on a multi-agency basis.

Genesis Adoptions

In 1998 AmRex related adoption agency SNZ Corporation was incorporated doing business as Genesis Adoptions. Two years later SNZ Corporation was renamed into Genesis Adoptions. While officially AmRex and Genesis Adoptions were two separate entities, in reality they shared the same office space and some of the people working for AmRex worked for Genesis Adoptions as well.

During its eight year existence Genesis Adoptions was in constant flux: there were five different executive directors, three different assistant directors and 38 different people serving on its board of directors, though a constant factor in all this turmoil was Marina Zakharova, who irrespective of who was officially in charge, seemed to run the business.

The Umbrella

It was the same Marina Zakharova whose contacts make it possible for AmRex to stay in business after the Russian Federation in 2000 required agency accreditation when doing adoptions from that country. Genesis never received accreditation, but they managed to do adoptions, using the accreditation of agencies within the AmRex network. The two most notable accredited agencies working with AmRex were: Adoption Placement and Beacon House Adoption Services Inc. It's very salient that the Russian representative of Adoption Placement at the time was Aleksandr Zakharov Valerevich, Marina Zakharova former husband, while the Russian representative of Beacon House was Galina Konstantinovna Bondarenko, Marina Zakharova mother.

The umbrella construction used by AmRex and it's agencies to do adoptions in Russia was not condoned by the Russian Department of Education. To circumvent this prospective adoptive parents first signed a contract with the agency of their choice, to later find out they had to sign a second contract with either Adoption Placement or Beacon House. That way for Russian law it seemed the latter two agencies were doing all the AmRex adoptions, while for American law it seemed the initial agency was doing the entire placement.

The software

With Marina Zakharova and her contacts running much of the show, Sergey Zasyatkin spent more and more of his time working on the software AmRex was using to operate its network. In 2003 he incorporated two companies Hague Software Inc. and Trans Parent Systems, Inc. According to Sergey Zasyatkin:

Oh, there was quite a potential market for the software. And it’s not just private adoption agencies. Private adoption agencies would be very small, a fragment of that market. Public adoption agencies, that’s where most of the demand is; and they are still using very antiquated software systems today. And that’s just – over the last ten years, there was $2 billion spent by public adoption agencies here in the United States in software development. And nothing really was developed for $2 billion. So that made sense that would –

While over $2 million was invested into Trans Parent Systems, money borrowed from AmRex, the software didn't sell and in 2005 both software firms closed shop.

Some sales activity was done through yet another organization set up by Zasyatkin, a non-profit called International Advocates for Children (IAC). IAC, formerly known as Intercountry Adoption Congress, claimed to be an advocate to overhaul the adoption system through public awareness and technological based solutions (as stated on their 990 TAX Form). Even though IAC organized several congresses to lobby for a more AmRex-centric organization of international adoption, it didn't help selling systems. The congresses did bring ICA to the forefront, so much they opened a European Office in Amsterdam, which after the AmRex collapse moved to The Hague and was renamed into World Orphan Initiative. IAC in America ceased to exist in 2006.

The Final Collapse

With the software companies losing money, the Russian adoption market being in turmoil over murdered adoptees in America and an exuberant lifestyle upheld by Zasyatkin and Marina Zakharova, by 2005, AmRex was losing much more money than they were making and the situation deteriorated in 2006. By the time AmRex filed for chapter 11 they had over 200 cases in the pipeline, many of them already being paid for, at least partially and officially only $8000 in the bank. None of these cases was ever completed and none of the money was ever refunded.

AmRex Aftermath

There is a company called Software for Adoption Management (SAM), which is run by Dmitriy Zasyatkin (Sergey's son), among whose customers we can find Christian World Adoptions, one of AmRex's former customers. SAM is located in Woodstock Georgia, only a couple of miles away from Alpharetta. Supposedly Sergey Zasyatkin is living with his son, although the former claims to have severed all ties with both his father and Marina Zakharova.

There is much more that can be said about the AmRex case and we have enough documentation about the company and its affiliates to fill pages and pages about their workings and the people involved, but putting that all down in one article will only make things even more complicated than they already are. It is clear AmRex was only in the business of adoption to make as much money as possible. With that business attitude no continuity is guaranteed and the end result of it: chaos and devastation.

by Kerry and Niels on Friday, 11 July 2008