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Accused baby seller meant well, lawyer says


The Arizona Daily Star

Author: Tim Steller

Good intentions motivated a Douglas man accused of selling Mexican babies to American families, his lawyer argued yesterday.

In law school at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, Mario Reyes Burgue�o wrote a thesis on adoption as a remedy for abortion.

But financial motivations also could have come into play.

Reyes operated a gas station, a liquor store and a shoe store in Douglas, which all failed, acquaintances said. Reyes, 41, and his wife, Yolanda, filed for bankruptcy in May of last year.

Among the listed creditors is Elise S. Ritter of Stony Brook, N.Y. She wrote that she wired Reyes $20,000 to a Norwest Bank account in Douglas on Dec. 1, 1997, expecting to obtain a child in return.

When she didn't have the child by February last year, Ritter phoned Reyes, she said in a court document. Reyes told her he no longer had the money.

Ritter accused him of fraud and embezzlement in a court filing. But the two sides came to an agreement in March that Reyes would pay Ritter back $21,000, plus 9 percent interest over 36 months.

Ritter declined to comment when reached at her home yesterday.

Reyes, one of seven children in a prominent Douglas-Agua Prieta family, has four children of his own. About 20 members of Reyes' family packed three rows of the courtroom yesterday but declined to comment.

``The whole thrust of our case is he never meant to cause any harm to anyone,'' his attorney, Ivan Abrams, said yesterday after asking a judge to release his client on bond.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Yarbrough argued at the hearing that Reyes might flee to Mexico if he were allowed to post bond. Until November last year, Reyes, who has dual citizenship, ran a law practice next to the U.S. border in Agua Prieta, Sonora, and he has friends and family south of the border.

But Abrams said that criminal charges against Reyes in Mexico prevent him from fleeing there.

U.S. Magistrate Nancy Fiora promised to decide today whether Reyes can post bond. Also yesterday, Reyes decided not to contest his removal to New York, where the case will be tried.

Reyes' co-defendants in New York, Arlene Reingold and Arlene Lieberman, were arrested May 25. Each has posted a $150,000 bond and has been released.

Federal prosecutors accuse Reyes, Reingold and Lieberman of conspiring in 17 cases to bring Mexican babies across the border and adopt them out to American parents for $20,000 or more apiece. They are also charged with mail fraud and wire fraud.

Prosecutors allege the crimes amounted to a well-planned baby-trafficking network. Mexican investigators came to the same conclusion last year and charged Reyes and several associates.

Cooperating with the U.S. government has not paid off yet for Reyes.

Told by friends that federal agents were investigating him, Reyes and his lawyer contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service in April, Abrams said.

On May 3, Reyes spoke with agents and prosecutors in Tucson for seven hours. But Reyes was unexpectedly arrested last Wednesday.

The criminal complaint against him cites the May conversation as evidence against Reyes.

``It's a shoddy way to treat somebody who's cooperating,'' Abrams said after yesterday's hearing.


Photo by David Sanders, The Arizona Daily Star: ``The whole thrust of our case is he never meant to cause any harm to anyone,'' said Reyes' attorney, Ivan Abrams

1999 Jun 2