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Bill to tighten regulations against adoption scams inexplicably barely passes in committee, full House


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In a state where flower arrangers and hair braiders are more stringently-regulated than child adoptions, it’s somehow typical that a bill to hold expectant mothers who scam the system accountable barely squeaked by in committee and was passed in the House strictly along party lines.

Andrea B. Carroll, in her 2011 LSU Law School Journal ARTICLE, wrote, “More than 50 years ago, state law on domestic infant adoption changed to uniformly prohibit the practice of baby selling, a development that eliminated the ‘black market’ for babies that many argued previously existed.”

But did it? Carroll went on to contend that the system “is broken even today,” with the cost structure of the domestic adoption scheme being the “greatest offender,” costing around $40,000.

That was 11 years ago. The cost is undoubtedly even more today and adoption fraud thrives within this dark enterprise that comes perilously close to human trafficking, if not actually doing so. And the bulk of those costs are borne by the prospective adoptive parents.

Which makes it all the more perplexing as to how there could be such a thin margin in the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on March 17 in the 7-6 passage of HB 568 and such a partisan vote in the full House, where it was approved by a 64-36 vote.

Even more surprising is that only a single Democrat, Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi, voted in favor of the bill while only four Republicans – Stephanie Hilferty of Metairie, Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge, Danny McCormick of Oil City, and Joseph Stagni of Kenner – voted no.

In committee, those voting against passage included Marcus Bryant (D-New Iberia), Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge), Joseph Marini, III (I-Gretna), McCormick, Nicholas Muscarello (R-Hammond), and Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville). Both Muscarello and Nelson later voted in favor in the full House vote,

The bill, by Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), targets birth mothers who intentionally lie in an effort to collect living expenses and other benefits from more than one set of adoptive parents.

That is what happened to CRAIG AND SHEILA MILLS of Baton Rouge in 2013 and it’s what led to the introduction of HB 568 and two companion bills (HB 252 and HB 297) by Edmonds.

The Millses in 2013 adopted “Baby M” from Carol Lee Griffin and Thomas Franklin Carlson after retaining an attorney who specialized in adoptions and New Orleans attorney/social worker Lisa Harell to conduct the required home study of prospective adoptive parents. They also paid DeColores Adoptions International, a Lake Charles adoption agency.

A year later, Griffin was again pregnant and contacted the Millses about adopting M’s biological sibling. The Millses again began providing financial support to Griffin and Carlson.

support to Griffin and Carlson. That support included payment for housing, food, medical expenses, and phones.

In the meantime, Griffin and Carlson, unbeknownst to the Millses, had contacted a California adoption agency which referred them to DeColores for an adoption evaluation and counseling for adoption of the baby by a second Louisiana family.

That infant, Baby M’s biological sibling, was ultimately adopted ty the second family, leaving the Millses both disappointed and irate.

The same thing happened to Dyland and Kristin David of Baton Rouge a couple of years later when they began making payments to a pregnant woman who the Davids said led them to believe who would cooperate with them in an adoption plan but who, it turned out, “was also working with other families, soliciting funds for the same adoption plan.

In their case, they sued adoption attorney MICHAEL THERIOT whom they claim they made aware of the woman’s duplicity but nevertheless continued to send her money belonging to the Davids.

A warrant was issued in 2010 for Heather Hill after she had an abortion in Bossier Parish but subsequently contacted a Lake Charles adoption agency to put her “unborn child” up for adoption in March even though she was not pregnant.

A Denham Springs family began making payments to her for support, eventually paying her $6800 over 25 different occasions. The money was paid through the adoption agency. Hill called and texted the family on numerous occasions threatening to give the baby to another family if they did not send her more money.

Later, after supposedly giving birth at LSUHSC, she informed the family that she had changed her mind about giving up the child. That is the mother’s right, provided there is actually a child which, in this case, there was not. The adopting family, out of concern for the infant’s welfare, even gave Hill additional money even after learning she was “keeping” the child.

But the law says that when a mother changes her mind about adoption, she must repay the adopting family provided in anticipation of an adoption.

Even The Washington Post took note of the lax regulations on adoptions in Louisiana in 1998 when it published a lengthy story by writer Gabriel Escobar. Under existing laws at the time, Escobar wrote, a mother giving birth must be domiciled in Louisiana. But mothers who go through any of the state’s private adoption agencies are considered to be domiciled here, a gaping loophole that allowed baby brokers to import pregnant women into Louisiana.

Adoption attorneys James A. Shrybman of Takoma Park, Maryland, and Theriot made good use of that loophole to bring pregnant women from Russia to Louisiana. Theriot shrugged off the Post story as “old news,” saying that neither he nor Shrybman had broken any laws.

But private adoption agencies, Escobar wrote, were not required to work in the best interest of the child. A birth mother is represented by the adoption agency and not an attorney. Moreover, Louisiana laws against buying and selling babies excluded those private agencies.

Baton Rouge attorney Todd Gaudin said during a contradictory hearing last June 21 there were “no rules” sufficiently regulating the perpetuation of fraud by a birth mother. “Double-dipping is, essentially, that a couple is receiving money from one couple while they’re receiving money from another.”

So, does that 7-6 committee vote mean that six members are in favor of double-dipping and human trafficking? Does it mean that those 36 in the full House are?

Of course not. Marino, who voted against the bill, said he feared the bill would not prevent a birth mother from being arrested when she legitimately has a change of heart about adopting her baby out.

But Edmonds believes it’s long past time that adoptive parents are protected from the greed and scams of those would take advantage of well-meaning, sincere efforts to provide a loving home to an innocent child.

Babies are not pawns and bartering human beings is still illegal. It’s time to put some teeth into enforcement against unscrupulous practitioners in the baby selling racket.

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