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Woman Admits Using False Papers in Baby-Smuggling Case


Woman Admits Using False Papers in Baby-Smuggling Case


Published: May 29, 1999

A Mexican woman who worked with a lawyer accused of smuggling babies from Mexico has admitted that the infants were sent to the United States under false documents but insisted that the Mexican mothers gave them up for adoption voluntarily.

Margarita Soto de Smith

, 28, a resident of the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta, was arrested there by Mexican federal police on Oct. 27, 1998. In her testimony, which was recorded on videotape, Mrs. Soto told how the lawyer,

Mario Manuel Reyes Burgueno

, found struggling mothers who were willing to part with their newborns and then used false documents to rush the babies through the normally tedious process of clearance for adoption in the Mexican courts.

Mr. Reyes, a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, was arrested Wednesday night at his home in Douglas, Ariz., just across the border from Agua Prieta. He is charged with conspiring to violate United States immigration laws and with mail and wire fraud.

Mrs. Soto testified that she received about $40 a week from Mr. Reyes to take babies into her home in Agua Prieta and care for them while they were waiting to be taken across the border, said a Mexican federal agent with knowledge of the case. The police were led to Mrs. Soto in part by complaints from her neighbors, who noticed that she always had three or four baby seats in the back of her car and wondered where the infants came from. Mrs. Soto did not have any license to handle adoptions or care for children.

Under questioning, Mrs. Soto reluctantly admitted that she also acted as what is known in Mexico as a ''name lender'' -- that is, she allowed Mr. Reyes to put her name on the birth certificates of at least three babies as the mother. Although pressed by the police, Mrs. Soto refused to say whether she was paid for posing as the babies' mother.

Based on what they learned from Mrs. Soto and other witnesses, the police believe that Mr. Reyes instructed the mothers to give false names right after their babies were born, when hospital officials came to gather information for birth certificates.

Mrs. Soto acknowledged that she had taken at least six babies across the border at Douglas using documents, many of them false, supplied by Mr. Reyes.

Her lawyer in Agua Prieta, Armando Zozaya Moreno, said that Mrs. Soto had cared for the babies and allowed her name to be used on birth certificates because the birth mothers, out of anguish at having to give up their children, did not want their names to be known or to have any contact with the babies after they were born.

''The procedures in Mexico are very convoluted,'' Mr. Zozaya said. ''The child could be 15 years old before a formal adoption is completed.

''A baby was born, and since it was a tiny creature that needed care, they weren't going to send it to a warehouse, '' he said of Mrs. Soto and Mr. Reyes. ''They made their decisions on human grounds, not legal ones,'' he added.

The police found a 6-week-old girl in Mrs. Soto's care at the time of her arrest. The baby was sent by the police to a shelter for homeless children run by the federal Government in Agua Prieta. Mrs. Soto was jailed and, in November, she was indicted on a federal charge of child-trafficking.

Mrs. Soto insisted that the young Mexican women who turned over their newborns to Mr. Reyes did so out of need. In many cases, she said, they were not married and had no way to support themselves or their babies. Some had not even told their families that they were pregnant. They gave birth in places as close by as Agua Prieta and as far away as Mexico City.

In many cases they heard of Mr. Reyes by word of mouth. He was known as a lawyer who could help them offer their babies for adoption quickly and easily, with no questions asked.

Prosecutors in New York said Mr. Reyes and his partners in Long Island,

Arlene Reingold and Arlene Lieberman

, received as much as $22,000 from parents for each adoption. But it does not appear that much, if any, of this money was paid to the birth mothers or associates of Mr. Reyes like Mrs. Soto.

In most cases Mr. Reyes paid for the mother's hospital expenses and other medical costs, several witnesses told the police. But so far there is no sign that the mothers received large payments directly for the children. The police found no evidence that Mrs. Soto had grown rich from her work with Mr. Reyes.

According to accounts in El Imparcial, a daily newspaper in Sonora, in November the birth mother of the baby found in Mrs. Soto's care traveled across Mexico from her home in the Gulf state of Veracruz to see her child and make sure she was being cared for. But the mother, a 17-year-old who gave her name only as Aracely, said she had no wish to take her baby back. She said she had been abandoned by the baby's father and could not keep the child in her parents' home.

Mr. Reyes had attracted the suspicion of Mexican police since 1997, because of the unusually large number of adoptions he steered through the courts in Agua Prieta. In 1997 and 1998 alone, Mr. Reyes presented papers for 16 adoptions.

Ernesto Garcia Guerrero, the Mexican Attorney General's representative in the state of Sonora, where Agua Prieta is, said today that a warrant for Mr. Reyes's arrest had been issued after Mrs. Soto was detained last year. Mr. Reyes apparently had not returned to Mexico since then, and was considered a fugitive from justice.

Mr. Garcia said Mexican investigators had found irregularities in 17 adoption cases Mr. Reyes moved through the Mexican courts. Mr. Garcia said his agents had been sharing information with law enforcement officials in the United States in an effort to track down Mr. Reyes.

Mr. Garcia asked the Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry today to seek Mr. Reyes's extradition to Mexico to stand trial here.

1999 May 29