Adoption's Risky Business

Fans crowd outside the Bachchan residence, "Prateeksha" to get a glimpse of the wedding celebrations on Thursday April 19, 2007. The Bachchans have reportedly arranged for added security personnel for the event. An Indian news channel, CNN-IBN reported that special gate passes have been issued to caterers, decorators and others involved in the pre-wedding logistics. AP Photo/Gautam Singh

By all accounts, Dan and Helene Kirlin have a picture postcard family, but these parents still grieve over the child they lost — Irena, a 2-year-old Russian girl they thought they were adopting, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes. They bought her clothes, decorated her room and wired $14,500 to an adoption facilitator who promised to deliver baby Irena to the Kirlin family.

"We paid the money. She said if we didn't pay her the money right away, we would lose her," recalled Helene.

What followed was heartbreaking. The adoption fell through — the facilitator never returned calls.

"Devastating, it's very upsetting," described Helene.

"I think she took more than advantage of us — she violated us," said Dan.

"She" is Adrienne Lewis. CBS News obtained a videotape of Lewis, who does much of her business cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet. Lewis is an unlicensed adoption facilitator who brokers deals between adoptive parents and the birth mothers of waiting children.

"It's not like I was looking to adopt, I was just sitting here one day and it was there," said Kimberly Backman, an adoptive mother.

More on Adoption
Check out these Web sites for more resources on the adoption process:

  • National Adoption Clearing House (www.calib.com/naic)

  • The Adoption Guide (www.theadoptionguide.com)
  • Backman is one of almost 20 prospective parents contacted by CBS News who claim Lewis deceived them in the adoption process. When Backman logged onto a Web site showcasing waiting babies, it also linked her to Adrienne Lewis, who at the time was facilitating Mexican adoptions.

    "It was cruel, it was cruel what she did," said Kimberly.

    According to Backman, Lewis abandoned her in Tijuana with an adopted newborn baby girl. The child had no papers and Backman had no idea if the adoption would hold up in the United States. "I didn't know if they could deport her; I didn't know if she was legal," she said.

    CBS News contacted Lewis, but she refused to be interviewed about the allegations against her, saying only, "I have no comment, because I am not unethical."

    No one knows for sure how many adoption failitators operate in the U.S. or how many are in cyberspace. But what is clear is most of them are unlicensed and laws governing their activity vary from state to state.

    "Being totally unregulated you could end up working with someone who is unreputable," warns National Council For Adoption President Patrick Purtill. "I wouldn't do anything like that over the Internet. It's foolish and the folks who are doing it are showing a level of naivete that's astounding," he said.

    When couples like the Kirlins try to find a government agency that will take their complaints about a facilitator, "You go down every avenue and the door is slams in your face," said Helene Kirline.

    In fact when the Kurlines' lawyers filed suit against Lewis, they tipped of the San Diego District Attorney to many other complaints against her. The response: a letter saying there was nothing the DA's office could do.

    The response was the same in Louisiana, where adoption facilitating is illegal. CBS News found a stack of allegations of fraud and deception against Lewis there. But the state licensing board would only say Lewis is under investigation.

    "I question whether there was ever going to be an adoption," said Dan Kirlin.

    The Kirlins won a $20,000 judgement against Lewis, but they've never seen a penny. What still haunts them most is not knowing whatever happened to little Irena, the child they still consider a part of their family.


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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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