Also, Thursday's arrest is not the first time ABC's finances have come to the attention of law enforcement.The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigated ABC in the mid 1990s after former ABC workers complained that adoptive parents were often charged for bogus birth mother expenses. In one case, a Pinellas judge threw out $30,000 in supposed medical expenses when ABC could not provide documentation.One former worker told authorities that she discovered several copies of "checks" to mothers in her files that couldn't match up with bills because they were written out of sequence.The investigation was dropped because the adoptive parents, who were the alleged victims, refused to cooperate.
"West and ABC's lawyer knew about the (father's custody) suit, but pushed the adoption through in Tampa anyway without telling Hillsborough authorities."
"At ABC, you did whatever the girl wanted," Free said. "I didn't ask her about the birth father or anything. I never knew it was important."
His biological mother went to ABC a few weeks before the birth and said she didn't know who the father was, which was a lie. State law required ABC to seek out the father with newspaper ads. Though Baby Sam's mother lived in Pinellas County, ABC advertised for an unknown father in a small paper that circulates only in Hillsborough County."We publish in the county where the agency is located,'' West said.
...they said birth mothers were pressured to give up babies, sometimes by workers who stood by their side as labor coaches.
"Every time a girl chose to keep the baby, we were called into the office and asked: What did you do wrong?'' said St. Petersburg resident Christy Hallas, who worked at ABC from 1990 to late 1992.
In her last case, Hensley said, a birth mother was in labor when the father called to say she had changed her mind about adopting. Assistant director Nancy Nagelhout "told me to offer her services as a labor coach to further enhance her bond to me,'' Hensley said. "She reminded me how I would be saving a child from a terrible life.''After Hensley refused, she said, Nagelhout drove to the hospital, two counties away, trying to secure the mother's signature."When a girl went to the hospital, you basically went there and you camped out,'' said Clearwater resident Elise Free, a birth mother worker who left at the end of 1993. "I remember not feeling comfortable. But I felt pressure from Debra and Nancy. You were to sign a surrender as soon as possible. The sooner the better because you didn't want her to change her mind.''
It's unclear whether Adoption By Choice (sic), still in business despite the additional financial burdens, and Boyer (ABC's attorney) have paid any of the settlements.
Anthony Marchese, the Johnsons' Tampa attorney, said his clients were told that the agency could not pay them until it received payments from new couples willing to adopt.
Lawmakers in Tallahassee are making headway on a much-needed overhaul of Florida's adoption system, but private adoption agencies are already mobilizing for a fight. And no wonder. Some adoption agencies and lawyers are milking the system for all it's worth, and they are not eager to be weaned. In a particularly cynical move, they are now using their adoptive-parent clients as fronts, betting that lawmakers would be reluctant to disappoint desperate couples willing to pay high premiums for the chance to adopt a healthy newborn.Legislators should not be fooled. If anything, the lobby's self-interest scheme should stiffen the state's resolve to put more safeguards in a system that for too long has escaped adequate oversight and regulation. Left mostly to their own devices, private agencies and lawyers have fostered an adoption system that comes close to baby-selling, with high costs to all parties involved -- except the middlemen, of course.As detailed in a recent report by the Times' Stephen Nohlgren, ex-employees of Tampa's Adoption By Choice say adoptive parents are snookered into paying thousands of dollars in bogus expenses, while birth mothers are pressured into giving up their babies within hours after delivery -- with no chance to change their minds -- and birth fathers are kept in the dark until it's too late. The rush to get the birth mother to sign away her rights, and the failure to notify the birth father of his, only increase the risk that the adoption will later be challenged.A comprehensive measure recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee could change the system for the better. By strengthening the rights of birth parents early on, it gives adoptive parents -- and, most important, the child -- greater stability later.The bill would give birth mothers time to reconsider their decisions. A pregnant woman who has signed a contract to put her newborn up for adoption may change her mind once the baby arrives. Women should not be pressured to give their consent from the hospital bed, when emotions are high and resistance is low. Under the proposed legislation, birth mothers would have a week after delivery to reflect on their decision -- and to back out of an adoption contract if they changed their minds.The measure also would give birth fathers notice of adoption plans. The "Baby Sam" case, involving a Palm Harbor man's still-ongoing attempt to regain custody of his natural son from an Alabama couple, is only the latest example of the instability and heartbreak that can result when adoptions proceed without the birth father's consent. This bill would require greater efforts to locate and to hear from those fathers.
This may explain why Debra West saw fit to enroll Adoptions By Choice in the membership of National Council For Adoption. A battle was raging to reform Florida's adoption laws, and not only were West's golden eggs in jeopardy – the geese that laid them were in danger of getting away. In addition to protecting her many incriminating secrets, the drastic changes these proposed reforms would bring would seriously curtail her baby procurement practices. She needed a bigger gun than those of her Florida agency cohorts. Who better to help her keep the lid on than NCFA?