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Adoption Agency Uses High-Pressure Sales, Fraudulent Documents


Chris Halsne


Eyewitness News

Investigative Reporter

On the surface, Project Hope is the kind of charity that's easy to love. It's mission: to help Washington families adopt Russian-born orphans.

However, not everything is as it appears.

A KIRO Team 7 Investigation has uncovered evidence of high-pressure sales, fraudulent visa documents, and shopping children door-to-door.

We introduced you to Kristina and Nikolay, two Russian children in America recently for what was described as a "day camp." In reality, they were being shopped around for adoption to some families who were not qualified to be adoptive parents.

Now, for the first time, the director of Project Hope talks with us about the way it does business.

Nikolay and Kristina lived out of a backpack this summer, biking and swimming, but they didn't stay long any one place. A non-profit called Project Hope moved the kids each time their hosts failed to raise an $11,000 "deposit." That deposit meant first dibs on adopting the half-brother and sister set.

"It's here. Do it now. Give us your money now or we pick 'em up."

Jessie and John Cravens want to adopt Nikolay and Kristina, however have grave concerns about working with a unlicensed adoption agency...

"From everything I've seen, you're going to spend this money and they're not really going to be yours," says John Cravens.

To find some answers, KIRO Team 7 Investigators came to Canyon Lake, California, just outside L.A. It's home to Project Hope, also known as International Family Services.

We pulled their tax returns. It's no mom and pop organization, generating nearly $3.5 million last year. International Family Services director Carol Mardock agreed to clarify what she calls "misconceptions" about what they do.

"I think we're talking apples and oranges here. We're not placing with the intent to adopt. We're just doing a host program," she says.

Chris: "How can you say you're not in the adoption business?"

Answer: "No. That's not what I'm saying."

Mardock says she and her husband (who was videotaping us during our interview) have flown in some 200 foreign-born orphans in the past two years. They bring the kids in on "visitor visas" and leave them with people who have shown some interest in adopting children.

"What we're doing is opening the doors to adoptions. However, we can't facilitate the adoptions, can't do the adoption of these children."

Washington state regulators tell KIRO Team 7 Investigators the problem is International Family Services might be breaking the law. For starters, they can't charge nearly $30,000 for adoptions services, then pretend to be "just a camp."

"I'm not willing to work in a gray area so if the state says I must comply in a certain way, i will do that."

State investigators also have questions about this contract, which alarmed legal expert who reviewed it for KIRO Team 7 Investigators. It is a binding confidentiality agreement with no money back guarantees for "host families" wanting to adopt.

The Mardocks were suprised we had a copy.

"That, you know what. Stop. He's still, he's still recording. Ya know, I, ya know, I want to look at this. I want this interview to have been over. You're done asking questions."

We may be, but Federal Immigration Agents now have plenty of questions for Project Hope -- questions about "willful misrepresentation."

They tell KIRO Team 7 Investigators that kids like Nikolay and Kristina would never be allowed to enter the United States on a tourist visa, if agents knew "camping" wasn't the real reason the kids were coming. In fact, KIRO Team 7 Investigators have confirmed that earlier this summer in Virginia, the US State Department denied entry to a group of kids sponsored by International Family Services. It's ruling: "Camping wasn't the main purpose of the visit as was erroneously stated on the visa applications." International Family Services and Project Hope say there is a misunderstanding and it is appealing that ruling.