exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in




Ann Carnahan and Jeff Kass

Rocky Mountain News

A 42-year-old Arapahoe County woman is accused of trying to sell her 8-year-old adopted Russian daughter for $4,000 on the Internet.

"Much as you would advertise a car for sale," Arapahoe County Sheriff's Sgt. Eugene Reilly said Monday.

Denise K. Thomas, who is a stay-at-home mom, was arrested Friday and will be charged with criminal attempted trafficking in children, authorities said.

The girl, named Elena, has been placed in foster care. Thomas and her husband also have a 14-year-old biological son.

Thomas said her arrest is a mistake. Her husband said they want the child back until she can be placed in a permanent home.

"In my heart, I know I've done nothing wrong," Thomas said.

Peter Thomas, 50, defended his wife and said Elena is so emotionally detached that she almost destroyed his family. She may have been sexually abused, he said, and has been bounced from one Russian orphanage to another since she was 3.

"We have tried and tried and tried to love this girl," said Peter Thomas, who is not suspected of trying to sell the child they adopted four months ago. "But her emotional issues are so deep.

"My wife's emotional reserves eventually ran out. She decided for her own health and long-term benefit of Elena, she was going to have to relinquish her."

Peter Thomas said his wife suffers from a mild form of manic depression, but controls it well with medication. It makes her more susceptible to stress, he said.

After months of upheaval, Denise Thomas tried to find the girl a new home. In the process, she apparently tried to recoup some of the $15,000 the couple spent adopting her, Peter Thomas said.

"If she mentioned money she was thinking about reimbursement of expenses," he said.

"What she was really trying to do was set up a private adoption to avoid the bureaucracy and regulations required around that issue," said undersheriff Grayson Robinson. "The bottom line was she was trying to sell the child."

Trafficking in children is a felony punishable by two to eight years in prison.

Authorities said Denise Thomas contacted a Texas couple Thursday via e-mail with the $4,000 proposal. When the Texans told Thomas what she was doing was a felony in their state, she responded that "this is the way to avoid the attorney's fees."

"You must really be naive," Thomas told the Texans, according to Reilly.

It is unclear how Thomas got the e-mail address of the Texas couple, who have apparently been involved in previous adoptions.

Peter Thomas said adopting Elena was an arduous, 1 1/2-year process to fulfill a lifelong wish.

"My wife had always dreamed of having a daughter," he said.

The couple got a 2-minute video of Elena, but were told nothing about her past. "Come to find out this girl has been abused in orphanages and God knows what else," Peter Thomas said.

He also learned that Elena's father drowned and her mother was an alcoholic, who was "last seen in a gutter somewhere. We don't know if she's dead or alive."

Peter Thomas went to Russia for 10 days in January to get Elena, while his wife stayed home with their son.

"When Elena saw me, even though we'd sent her photos and she wanted to come to America, she buried her head in the arms of the orphanage director and cried," he said. "She was very nervous about being alone with me."

Back in Colorado, the Thomases got Elena medical care.

"When she was getting shots, she crawled under a table, curled up in a fetal position and screamed," Peter Thomas said. "She reverted to acting like an animal at the doctor's office.

"The pediatric dentist had to strap her down to look in her mouth."

Elena's problems began tearing the family apart, so the Thomases contacted the Mississippi couple who had adopted Elena's 10-year-old sister. But they wouldn't take Elena, Thomas said, because they wanted only one child.

Denise Thomas found the Texas couple on the Internet. "When Denise mentioned expenses, they said `That's baby selling.' Denise broke it off and said that's not the type of people we want for our child. They turned around and printed e-mails and gave it to the police."

Peter Thomas, who works in insurance claims, returned from a business trip Friday to find officers interrogating his family.

Sgt. Reilly said Denise Thomas showed no remorse and was surprised when deputies arrived.

The girl appeared to be physically healthy, said officials, who got her a pair of in-line skates.

"She's cute," Reilly said.

A juvenile court judge could have a hearing as early as Wednesday to decide the girl's future.

1999 May 25