exposing the dark side of adoption
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Mark Shaffer

The Arizona Republic

A Douglas man practicing law in Mexico and two New York women were charged Thursday with running an adoption ring that brought 17 Mexican children illegally into the country and sold them to Long Island couples for up to $22,000 apiece.

Mario Reyes, 40, of Douglas, and Arlene Lieberman, 48, and Arlene Reingold, 47, of Medford, N.Y., were arrested late Wednesday on charges of violating a host of U.S. immigration laws and mail and wire fraud. The three had been working together for about 10 years, according to the federal indictment.

Reyes attended high school in Douglas but went to law school in Mexico and set up his practice, which specializes in adoptions, only a block away from the crossing station to Douglas in Agua Prieta, Sonora. He has dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship.

It was unclear in court papers how Reyes and the two New York women met and began the adoption ring. But Lieberman and Reingold presented themselves to prospective parents as adoption experts, using business names such as Stork International and International Adoption Consultants.

The New York state Department of Social Services received complaints as early as 1990 that the two were misleading potential clients and never issued them a license to arrange adoptions.

Meanwhile, on the Arizona end, court papers accuse Reyes of paying to smuggle babies from his Agua Prieta office to his Douglas home, commonly using Mexican women with legal U.S. crossing documents to pose as their mothers.

Last October, a secretary in Reyes' law firm, 26-year-old Margarita Soto, was arrested by Mexican police and charged with trafficking in children.

Mexican judicial officials said at the time that Soto was part of a ring that bought babies from pregnant women in the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, paying for their medical expenses and giving them a fee for the child.

The mothers would then sign the names of the person buying the child on birth certificates and Reyes handled the paperwork of removing the children legally from Mexico.

But on the U.S. end, the adoptive parents were stuck with having illegal-immigrant children. According to Immigration and Naturalization Service records, no visas were ever issued for any of the 17 children to enter the United States under the names that appeared on their birth certificates.

The indictment also alleges that Reyes sent mentally challenged and sexually abused children to prospective parents.

In many cases, after only a few days, ''the parents came to realize that the children had no immigration status in the United States and, in some cases, had serious, unanticipated health and other problems,'' the indictment said.

In one planned 1997 adoption, in which Lieberman traveled to Arizona to pick up a 2-year-old girl, the parents refused to accept the child. They told federal authorities that her eyes didn't focus, her stomach was distended and that she appeared to have no neck. She also licked the walls and awoke from sleep screaming, according to the indictment.

Reingold then told them, ''all she needed was a little love and good food,'' the indictment said.

The two women ran ads in a Long Island newspaper offering adoptions from such countries as Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay and Bulgaria. But, the indictment noted, when people inquired about children from countries other than Mexico, they were steered toward Reyes, who they said had a knack for finding attractive children that could be adopted in days.

The adoption ring falsely told the prospective parents that Mexican law allowed adoptive parents to take custody of the children before the adoption was finalized in Mexico and that they could submit the paperwork in the United States once the Mexican requirements were fulfilled.

Court documents also said that Reyes took at least one child to New York City and met with potential clients in Douglas, meeting them at a gas station before ushering them to his home or office.

The court documents said that Reyes met one couple at his Agua Prieta office and pushed a young girl at them. When the couple demanded to ''dot every 'i' and cross every 't' '' about making the adoption legal, Reyes said they would have to return to Douglas to get a Mexican crossing visa.

As he drove across the border, Reyes waived at a U.S. border official, the couple told investigators, then looked at them and said, ''See how easy that was?'' according to the indictment.

1999 May 28