exposing the dark side of adoption
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A Michigan man told a Uniondale Federal Court judge yesterday that joy turned to worry after two Medford women were charged with smuggling infant Mexican children into the United States.

Armand Martin, 38, of Saginaw, told U.S. District Court Judge Jacob Mishler at a sentencing hearing for the women, Arlene Lieberman and Arlene Reingold, that he and his wife had adopted one of the infants.

He said he and his wife were shocked to find out Lieberman and Reingold had been arrested in May for smuggling 22 Mexican babies and children into the country and arranging their adoptions for fees of up to $22,000 each. Many children wound up with families on Long Island.

"We thought, 'We're toast,' " said Martin, a computer engineer.

He said the arrests heightened their fears that their baby would be taken from them and deported.

Four months after their arrest, both women, neighbors for years on Blockpine Drive, pleaded guilty to being participants in the scheme.

A month later, a lawyer, Mario Reyes, of Douglas, Ariz., who was accused of being involved in the scheme, pleaded guilty.

Reyes admitted to smuggling the children into the U.S. after defrauding Mexican authorities by forging documents and having women pose as some of the biological mothers.

Lieberman, 48, and Reingold, 47, face 21 to 27 months in prison and have agreed to pay $43,500 in restitution. Reyes, 41, faces 33 to 41 months in prison and has agreed to restitution of $125,000.

The legal status of the smuggled children is in limbo.

Mishler called yesterday's hearing to decide on how long the sentences should be.

Government prosecutors want the sentences to be as long as possible. They argued that the families who wound up with the children were "vulnerable victims" of Reyes and the two women.

But defense lawyers disagreed.

"The parents were complicit in the process," said Reyes' attorney, Steve Scaring. "The parents are not victims."

Martin said he and his wife turned to adoption after efforts to have their own children were unsuccessful.

They found out about an adoption agency Lieberman and Reingold ran on Long Island, and through them arranged the adoption of an infant from Guatemala.

In 1996, while that adoption was being processed, Lieberman and Reingold called and said they had five hours to decide if they wanted to adopt a 2-day-old boy from Mexico.

They flew to Arizona and met Reyes at a gas station. Then at his office they were given the boy in exchange for $19,500. They named the baby Steven Alexander.

A few months later, they adopted the Guatemalan boy and named him Billy. At the same time, their worries about the Mexican adoption started.

"It seemed some corners had been cut in the process relating to Steven," said Martin. The Guatemalan adoption was done legally, authorities said.

As the worries mounted, they proceeded to get Steven's adoption legalized. They made an appointment to have a social worker visit their home, but were told by Reyes to lie about the baby's whereabouts.

"We felt we were getting in deeper," Martin said.

During cross-examination by Scaring, Martin admitted that he never contacted a lawyer or immigration authorities, even as he became more suspicious about Steven's legal status.

He said the first time he contacted an attorney was in 1998, two years after they were given Steven.

"You had some suspicions what you did was not proper?" Scaring asked.

"We did not believe we were doing something improper," Martin replied.

2000 Feb 10