News/US: 3 Charged With Running Mexican Baby-Smuggling Ring

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Subject: News/US: 3 Charged With Running Mexican Baby-Smuggling Ring
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jul 13 1999 - 10:09:52 EDT


I can't remember if I sent this.........

Melanie

3 Charged With Running Mexican Baby-Smuggling Ring
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
The New York Times, May 28, 1999

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Federal prosecutors on Thursday accused two Long
Island women and a prominent lawyer near the Arizona-Mexico border of
running a baby-smuggling ring in which at least 17 Mexican infants were
illegally sold to unwitting adoptive parents in the New York area for
$20,000 or more.

According to prosecutors, the Long Island women, Arlene Lieberman and
Arlene Reingold, lured desperate would-be parents with promises of safe,
easy, legal adoptions.

But the adoptions turned out to be anything but legal, prosecutors say. The
lawyer, Mario Reyes, forged birth certificates and consent forms, bribed
Mexican officials to look the other way, and still ultimately failed to
receive the necessary approvals from United States immigration officials,
the authorities said.

A spokesman for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service
said Thursday that the children would be allowed to remain with their
adoptive parents and that the Government would work to legalize their status.

Ms. Lieberman, 48, and Ms. Reingold, 46, who live a few doors from each
other in a middle-class neighborhood in Medford, in Suffolk County, were
arrested Thursday morning at their homes, according to the United States
Attorney's office in Brooklyn. Reyes, 40, a dual citizen who practices law
in Agua Prieta, Mexico, less than 100 feet from the border with Douglas,
Ariz., was arrested at his home in Douglas on Wednesday.

The three are charged with conspiring to violate various immigration laws
and to commit mail and wire fraud. They face maximum prison sentences of up
to 10 years for each child smuggled into the United States. Their lawyers
could not be reached for comment.

The three defendants implicated themselves in separate interviews with
Federal investigators earlier this month, according to the affidavit.

Reyes, the affidavit said, admitted on May 3 that most of the 17 Mexican
children had been smuggled illegally into the United States. He described
hiring professional smugglers, who in turn used women to pose as the
children's mothers during border crossings. And he described a variety of
frauds he used to obtain Mexican birth certificates for the children.

Reyes also said he had arranged for 10 to 20 Mexican infants and children
to be smuggled illegally in the last three or four years, almost all of
them to New York, where he said he dealt exclusively with Ms. Lieberman and
Ms. Reingold, the affidavit said.

The two women, interviewed on May 7, said they had escorted a number of
babies to New York and had brought their husbands with them at times.

Prosecutors have not yet determined whether the 17 children taken through
Agua Prieta, one of the chief smuggling points along the Mexican border,
were stolen from their families, turned over for adoption voluntarily or
sold by one or both of their parents.

Selling children is a crime in Mexico.

But the Mexican border region may have been the source for some of the
children. Clustered around border towns are dozens of assembly plants,
called maquiladoras. Most of the workers in these plants are young, single
Mexican women. And recent investigation by the United States State
Department found that some plants actively discourage their employees from
having children, routinely subject female applicants to pregnancy tests and
deny them jobs if the tests are positive.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against
Reyes, the two women and their husbands, and their company, International
Adoption Consultants, seeking to permanently bar them from the business of
adoption placements.

Federal and state court papers assert that Ms. Lieberman and Ms. Reingold
went into business in 1990 under the name Stork International, ostensibly
to provide information and referrals only. But after state officials
received repeated complaints that they were running an unlicensed adoption
agency, the two formed a second company, Adoption Choice, in 1992, and then
a third, International Adoption Consultants, in 1996.

The companies were never licensed as adoption agencies, yet prosecutors say
they continued to place children with adoptive parents.

Ms. Lieberman and Ms. Reingold have assisted in more than 500 international
adoptions since 1990, according to a 66-page affidavit released by the
United States Attorney's office in Brooklyn.

Not all of the children adopted through the agencies were smuggled, however.

Before making contact with Reyes and focusing on Mexican children, the two
women brokered adoptions of children from Guatemala, Paraguay and other
countries, in accordance with Immigration and Naturalization Service rules,
the Federal court papers say.

Only the placements of the 17 babies smuggled from Mexico are under Federal
scrutiny.

In those cases, according to the Federal affidavit, the three charged
would-be parents as much as $22,000, plus thousands more in consulting
fees, travel and translation expenses.

One parent told investigators that he had asked for a reduction in the fee,
but was told by one of the women that Reyes had responded: "I am not Monty
Hall and this is not 'Let's Make a Deal.' "

Another parent trying to adopt a baby recounted how the girl had arrived in
New York gravely ill, the apparent victim of sexual abuse: "Her eyes did
not focus, she smelled terribly, her stomach was markedly distended and she
appeared to have no neck," she said, according to the affidavit.

"The girl's behavior was also troubling: she licked the walls and woke up
from sleep screaming."

The distraught adoptive parent called Ms. Reingold, "who said that there
was nothing wrong with the girl: all she needed was a little love and good
food," the affidavit said.

Several of the adoptive parents, who the authorities say were duped by the
three defendants, said they had been emotionally devastated by the
experience. Rosalie Liberto, of Miller Place, who adopted a daughter,
Gabriel, in July 1997, said she did not learn that her daughter, now 5 1/2,
had entered the country illegally until nearly a year later. "We about
died," she said in the affidavit.

"We were petrified that the Government would take her away from us," she said.

Mark Thorne, a spokesman for the I.N.S., said that unless they had been
kidnapped from their parents in Mexico, the agency had "no intention of
removing the children, who are innocent victims and who were sold to the
defendants. We will work with the United States Attorney's office and the
individual attorneys of parents involved to see that these children's
status is legitimized."

But other parents said they remained fearful that the true origins of their
adopted children could change things -- if it turned out that they had been
kidnapped, for example. "Our biggest fear is that something's going to
happen to make us lose her," said Sara Kruchkow, 46, of Flushing, over the
telephone tonight as her daughter Maria Soledad, now 3, murmured to her in
the background.

The smuggling ring was first revealed in Mexico last October, according to
the Federal affidavit, when a newspaper there reported that Reyes was under
investigation in connection with trafficking in babies and possibly selling
body parts. American authorities soon began their own inquiry, and in
December, an undercover immigration agent posed as a prospective parent and
asked Reyes for help in adopting a Mexican child; he responded by quoting a
$20,000 fee, the affidavit said.


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