Friday, November 13, 2009

UPDATE: Cohen "Ponzi" Baby Selling Scam

Charges Against N.Y. Lawyer Show Gray Areas of Adoption

The couple who turned in a Roslyn, N.Y., lawyer for allegedly masterminding a multi-state adoption Ponzi scheme admitted they ignored numerous red flags along the way. But practitioners say the adoption field itself remains such a legal gray area that it tests the ethical limits of the attorneys who specialize in it.

According to a 69-count indictment unsealed last month, Cohen, who in 2004 founded The Adoption Annex, a now-defunct nonprofit adoption service provider, stole more than $300,000 from couples looking to adopt by promising them children "who did not exist." Cohen, 41, faces up to 25 years if convicted on the top charge of second-degree grand larceny and is being held on $500,000 bail in a Nassau County hospital prison ward.

It is the emotionally charged nature of the adoption process that makes it essential attorneys maintain an ironclad adherence to ethics [?!] and existing laws, said several practitioners.

Apparently, in NY §374 of the Social Services Law, only an approved adoption agency can place children, and §374 (6) provides that "no person may or shall request, accept or receive any compensation or thing of value, directly or indirectly," for placing a child or otherwise arranging an adoption.

Elizabeth S. Falker, a New Rochelle adoption attorney says: "You have to be extraordinarily careful. You cannot be paid to make a match between a birth parent and an adoptive parent."

Here's the big catch - the major loophole in adoption law:   The law allows for payment of "reasonable and actual legal fees charged for consultation and legal advice, preparation of papers and representation and other legal services" provided in connection with an adoption.

Who defines "reasonable"?  Apparently, some feel $60k is reasonable!

In a case of pot and kettle, Aaron Britvan - who knows all too well how to broker babies for adoption -- says that Cohen's Adoption Annex was touted in a 2004 Roslyn News article as "one stop shopping" for adoption services, offering counseling, mentoring and a research center.

The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), the agency overseeing interstate adoptions in New York, reviewed the activity of The Adoption Annex when it was founded, but determined that the service was never an "authorized adoption agency" and thus did not require state approval. Isn't that special. So, an adoption agency cannot legally accept fees to match-making in adoption, so just be a match-making service and get around that law! Who knows better how to circumvent laws than a lawyer!

"At that time, based on the information received by OCFS on the services and activities of the Adoption Annex, OCFS did not identify that the Adoption Annex was violating New York law," Pat Cantiello, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail. She added that the agency did not have further contact with the annex, nor did it receive any complaints about it.

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