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Well-crafted adoption plan fooled parents


The Arizona Daily Star

Documents show how kids came to U.S. from Mexico

Author: Rhonda Bodfield Sander

Court documents obtained yesterday provide new details into how a Douglas man and his New York partners illegally peddled Mexican babies to anxious American families.

Mario Reyes Burgue�o, a well-known lawyer with dual citizenship who practices in Mexico, was arrested earlier this week at his home. He confessed to prosecutors in early May that he illegally smuggled as many as 20 children into the United States over four years.

Two New York women, Arlene Lieberman and Arlene Reingold, also face charges of fraud and conspiring to violate immigration laws. The three could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the 17 infants they are accused of smuggling.

``There was no way to know this wasn't done legally,'' said one victim, Rosalie Liberto of Long Island, who said she's relieved the trio won't be hurting other families.

Liberto said Reyes ``seemed like a nice enough man at the time'' but since finding out her 5 1/2-year-old daughter is here illegally, ``I've spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying that our child could be taken away.''

The scam, according to court records, generally went like this:

Lieberman and Reingold worked as New York-based consultants for a licensed adoption agency in Wisconsin. Parents were told they could wait months for a baby from another country. A phone call from the women would come shortly afterward, saying a Mexican child had just become available through a Mexican attorney. They were told the 40-year-old Reyes would handle the details for them and that it was no longer necessary to go through the Wisconsin agency.

Border-baby law

Calls to the Wisconsin firm went unanswered yesterday.

Parents were told that a border-baby law allowed them to take custody of the children while the adoption was finalized in Mexico. They would often get their children within days.

Reyes told investigators he would pay a professional smuggler to bring the children across the border and that in many cases, the children were brought across with women who would pose as their mothers. It is unclear what role the birth parents played.

He admitted he hired women to pose as birth mothers who would obtain birth certificates and sign Mexican adoption consent forms, purportedly to show the parents agreed to release the children.

Reyes had friends pose as ``character witnesses'' who testified at adoption proceedings in Mexican court that the New York couples were upstanding citizens, even though they had never met.

And he admitted he bribed Mexican immigration officials to stamp immigration documents to make it appear that the parents had been to Mexico to adopt the children - even though in most cases, the parents picked them up in Arizona or at airports in New York.

$22,000 paid

Only one set of parents traveled to Mexico to receive a child.

That couple, Sara and David Kruchkow, paid Reyes a total of $22,000 in 1997 and 1998. After two failed adoption attempts, they met a young girl at Reyes' office. When they tried to get across the border with the final adoption decree Reyes had given them, they were told the paperwork was incomplete. The couple said they called Reyes, who said they had everything they needed, then hung up and refused to take further calls.

A border official eventually allowed them to take the girl, who was sick with a fever, bronchitis and an eye infection, across the border for medical treatment. The girl, who remains with the Kruchkows, now has no immigration status.

Few parents received adoption decrees, and not one was given a passport or visa when they received their child.

Parents were generally told they would receive the final paperwork in the mail. Some were told the Mexican judge handling the adoption had died and the case was delayed because it was reassigned. Some never got calls back.

In one case, a parent was told to take some paperwork to the Mexican Consulate and say she wanted to adopt a Mexican child, even though she had already had her child for several months without an adoption decree or visa. She was told she should not tell consulate officials the child was already in the United States.

Parents told to lie

Other parents said Reyes told them to lie and say the child was not in the United States.

Two parents in early 1998, however, told the consulate officials they already had their child, which sparked the investigation into the trio's activities.

Prosecutors say they believe the ``scheme was to string the parents along'' until two years passed. Under immigration law, parents who have custody of a child for two years can move to legalize an illegal-alien child's status.

The attorney general of New York has filed a civil suit against Lieberman and Reingold to ban them from assisting in adoptions again.

The Libertos, a couple in their 50s, could be important witnesses.

The couple paid $2,250 in the summer of 1996 to start the adoption process. After an initial plan to adopt two girls fell through, they were told an 8-year-old named Nicole was available. They paid $14,000 to Reyes and an additional $5,250 to Lieberman and Reingold for travel and hotel expenses.

In May 1997, after five months of begging to go back home to Mexico, Nicole was sent home. The Libertos paid $1,694 in travel expenses.

Girl wanted clothes, money

The next month, they were told Nicole wanted to come back and that her younger sister, Gabriel, was available. They paid two more checks for $10,000 and $9,500 for Gabriel's adoption and another $4,327 in travel expenses.

In August, Nicole went back to Mexico again after telling the Libertos she only came to get more money and clothes and wanted to go home.

The Libertos were then told a 2-year old, Maritsa, was available and paid another $8,000. They picked the girl up at a convenience store. Her eyes did not focus, her stomach was markedly distended and she had no neck. She licked the walls and woke up screaming. The couple took the girl to the hospital, where doctors determined she was retarded, severely malnourished and had been sexually abused.

The Libertos determined they could not keep her. She was sent back to Mexico.

They still have Gabriel but have not been able to get a refund for the $22,000 they spent on the unsuccessful adoptions of Nicole and Maritsa.

Liberto said she believed everything was legal. She checked with Wisconsin and found no complaints on the agency. She didn't find any complaints under the women's consulting firm, either.

New adoption firms

But the women kept shuffling firms as regulators increased the pressure.

The state dissolved their first company,

Stork International Inc

., in 1993 after numerous complaints that the women were acting as an adoption agency - not a consulting firm - without a license.

They then formed

Adoption Choice Inc

., again to act as a referral and information agency. The state in January 1995 refused to grant their application to place children - again because they continued to act as a placement agency without a license.

Lieberman and Reingold in 1996 formed

International Adoption Consultants

to offer support and assistance to adoption agencies.

Darren Dopp, a spokesman for the New York Attorney General's Office, could not say exactly how the women continued to operate but speculated that ``the volume of business transactions is such that these things can happen.''

Experts say the case highlights how unscrupulous people can take advantage of prospective parents during an emotional time.

Robert Finn, a Tucson adoption attorney, said $20,000 seems like an exorbitant amount. And he said, it should be a warning sign if appropriate paperwork doesn't come with the child.

His advice: get a good attorney, check state licensing files on the adoption agency and get referrals.

Quick turnaround warning
Marsha Usdane

, a spokeswoman for Phoenix-based

Dillon Southwest

, which specializes in placements of Korean children, said promises of quick turn-around time should be a red flag. It takes about nine months to get a child from Korea.

``When things are not moving as other agencies have said they should move, that should be a cause of concern.''

She said agencies should justify the amount of money charged. ``The money isn't to buy a child, it's to pay for the processing to make the legal adoption happen and to care for the child. There should be salaries for social workers built in, money built in for foster care and medical care.''

And always, she said, children cannot arrive until they get immigration approval.

Sara Kruchkow, of Flushing, N.Y., who picked up her now-3-year-old daughter in Mexico, has advice for prospective parents. ``Make sure they do lots of research and when they think they've done all they can do, do more.''

Even though the parents have been assured they should be able to keep their children, unless it turns out they were kidnapped, ``We're real nervous,'' she said. ``Anybody who is a mother will know how it feels if you sense there is the slightest chance anything will happen to your child.''

Photo: Reyes

1999 May 29