exposing the dark side of adoption
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The Miami Herald

Author: CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND ASHLEY FANTZ, cmarbin@herald.com

Florida child-welfare officials are trying to revoke the license of International Adoption Resource Inc., saying the Coral Springs adoption agency constitutes an ``immediate danger'' to the safety of children.

The Department of Children & Families suspended the agency's license in December. The revocation is a more-severe step that would prohibit the agency's executive director, Rebecca Thurmond, from working in Florida for two years as a child care placement agent.

In an administrative complaint, DCF said nine babies found at a Costa Rican home leased by the adoption agency's director were alleged to have been ``kidnapped from their birth mothers'' in Guatemala and were ``awaiting international adoptions.'' The babies were found during a police raid in September.

The revocation was necessary, the complaint states, because Thurmond continued to broker adoptions even after DCF suspended her license last month.

``The department maintains that International Adoption Resource Inc. knew or should have known that they violated numerous licensing laws,'' DCF district head Jack Moss said Monday in a statement.

The agency's behavior, he added, ``posed an immediate serious danger to the public health, safety or welfare of the children and potential adoptive families.''

``They are allegations right now,'' said Michael B. Cohen, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents the agency. He said he probably would ask a judge to dismiss the action.

``As we have said from the beginning, my client did nothing wrong. Our position is she will be vindicated, ultimately.''

The complaint alleges that Thurmond provided DCF with ``false information'' about her agency several times during a four-month investigation. She told administrators she was not associated with a Costa Rican attorney, Carlos Robles, but a letter from Thurmond sent to adoption authorities in Costa Rica identifies Robles as ``acting on behalf of Thurmond.''

Costa Rican authorities jailed Robles, a convicted felon, in September after they linked him to the nine babies found in the Costa Rican home.

Thurmond also told DCF she had no involvement with the house, but Costa Rican authorities told DCF that Thurmond signed the lease.

In December, Interpol issued an arrest order for Rolf Levy, an employee of International Adoption Resource hired last summer to coordinate the agency's international adoptions. Interpol alleges that Levy, who is still at large, was involved in the Costa Rica incident, baby-smuggling in Colombia and the death of a child in his care in Colombia.

According to DCF's complaint, Thurmond told agency licensing officials she did not know who ``Rafael Leyva'' was, and that no one by that name was involved with her agency. But, the complaint states, Rafael Leyva is an alias for Rolf Levy.

And Thurmond lied, DCF says, when she told the agency she had been to Costa Rica only once.

``Later information received by the department indicates that she had been there multiple times,'' the complaint states.

Also, Thurmond states on her résumé to DCF that she was an employee at Thursday's Child, a Connecticut adoption agency. Thursday's Child's director, however, told DCF Thurmond did not work there.

The agency's record-keeping fell woefully short of state standards, with adoption files missing huge chunks of information required by law, according to the complaint.

An inspection of the agency's records, for example, found 65 files that contained no medical background on children being adopted. The files belonging to 30 families, DCF spokesman Leslie Mann said, showed that ``insufficient information was shared with prospective parents.''

A Midwestern couple hoping to adopt a Guatemalan toddler said Thurmond required little information from them, though the couple did provide both a criminal background check and a copy of their marriage license. They paid the agency more than $10,000.

The couple said they were given scant information except for a photo and a DNA sample from the child and his mother. That was supposed to prove that the two were who they said they were and that the mother was consenting to the adoption.

``I wondered late last year if we should just stop this and go to a totally different agency,'' the wife said. ``Our red flags were up the whole time but, we just want our boy. That was bottom line to us no matter what else was going on.''

2004 Jan 13