In April 2006 we signed a contract with Adoption International Program (AIP) Incorporated in Santa Barbara, California (their agency license is in PA). The co-owner and director is Mr. Orson Mozes. Christen Brown, Orson’s wife, was the other co-owner. We signed with AIP after seeing the picture of a beautiful baby boy on a photolisting through the website http://www.adopting.com/ and hoped adoption could help us grow our family. Mr. Mozes informed us that 80% of his clients adopt the child they selected from the photolisting. He informed us that this baby boy, Alexander, was available and that once we sent our initial fee, his picture would be removed from the photolisting site and nobody else could inquire about him. Little did we know at that time that photolistings are illegal under Kazakhstani law (where we were adopting from) and their country does not recognize “referrals” or allow children to be “held” for any particular couple.
As I researched the laws of Kazakhstan and began chatting with numerous couples on the Yahoo groups for adoptive parents I started to uncover the appalling reputation that Mr. Mozes had and his unethical and questionable practices. Sadly, we were financially bound to him (over $8,000.00 at that time) and could not afford to lose the money we gave him to date.
We began “nesting” and preparing our son’s nursery with great joy in our hearts. But after loving Alexander for nine months and dreaming of the day he would become a part of our family we were informed via a sterile e-mail, that he was no longer available due to a problem with his paperwork! We were brokenhearted and considered ending our relationship with AIP and looking for another agency. However, Orson reminded us we would not get a cent back of what we had already given him and also made it clear that we would have to go to mediation in California and any lawsuit would have to be filed there as well. His intimidation tactics worked and we forged ahead.
After some time Orson informed us that his contacts in Kazakhstan had found another baby boy for us. We accepted this baby boy, named Stas, and once again our hope was renewed. We traveled to Kazakhstan in February 2007 with both excitement and trepidation. After 24 hours in the air we landed in Almaty, Kazakhstan and were met by Orson’s contact in country, a man named Nigmat. Up until that point Nigmat was only the name of a faceless man that we wired money to in an account he has in Cyprus. He explained what we should expect during our trip and collected the remaining balance due in cash. Nigmat left and we stayed in the airport with his assistant waiting for our early morning flight to the city Ust-Kamenogorsk.
When we arrived in Ust-Kamenogorsk we were informed that the coordinator, Almagul, was stuck in Astana due to bad weather, so we could not go to the orphanage until she arrived. We waited patiently and two days later we were finally introduced to our beautiful son Stas! It was the happiest day of our lives. He was sick and much delayed developmentally, but he was perfect to us. Our nightmare continued though, when ten days later, after celebrating Stas’s first birthday together with a party at the orphanage, we were informed that his birthmother returned and stated she did not want him adopted. Devastation cannot adequately describe the pain we experienced from this loss. We considered flying back home immediately. However, we felt that there must be a baby who needs us and could help make us a family.
My husband could not bring himself to return to the orphanage. I went back and was shown several children. There was no connection with any of these children. I was numb. That night I reiterated to Orson that we wanted to adopt a BOY who was under three years old. He told us that he “pulled a lot of strings” and that we would be shown a wonderful baby boy the next morning. That baby boy was Andrey and I felt a connection to him right away. I told my husband I thought he would feel connected to him too. It was very difficult for Joe to open his heart again, but he did and slowly fell in love with Andrey. After completing the mandatory fifteen day bonding period (again!) we went to court and the judge granted our adoption. We were thrilled and on cloud nine! My husband flew home and I stayed in order to complete the fifteen day waiting/appeal period and finalize the adoption. On the fifteenth day of the waiting/appeal period I was told that Andrey’s birthmother filed an appeal! This was beginning to feel like a horrible Lifetime movie!
I had to go to the appeals court in order to fight for our son. The first day, the birthmother did not show up. They rescheduled for two days later and this time she showed. She gave power of attorney to a gentleman friend and he was the greatest force behind this appeal. The court denied her appeal and the case was returned to family court. I had now been in Kazakhstan for two months and my Family Leave was running out. We were also paying $175.00 per day for the apartment, driver and translator. I was not getting paid for these two months and our funds were drying up. I was alone, often abandoned by the driver, translator and coordinator, and I could no longer visit our son at the orphanage. Everyone involved in our case told me there was nothing more I could do and that my presence in Kazakhstan was moot. Our coordinator, Almagul, had power of attorney and would continue to go to court as our representative. I finally had to leave our case in her hands and head home. Getting on that plane and leaving our son in the orphanage was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life.
I had been home since mid-April and there was no resolution to our case in sight. There were two court dates: one on May 16 and the other on May 30, 2007. One night in early June I received an e-mail from a woman who had just returned from Ust-Kamenogorsk telling me it was urgent that I contact her. I did and my heart shattered in a million pieces. She told me that they were all lying to me! She said that the day our court date was held Almagul never went and when she inquired Almagul just blew her off. Orson denied everything and acted outraged assuring us he would get to the bottom of the matter.
Soon after, we received a letter from the Kazakhstan courts, but it was in Russian. Orson claimed that the translator they used was on vacation. We finally had to hire someone privately to translate the letter for us. I thought I would die as I read the court’s letter stating that we did not show up in court and our Power of Attorney, the coordinator for Adoption International Program (Almagul), did not show up to represent us! Soon after this Orson “disappeared” and we were left with an empty bank account and an empty crib…not to mention the emotional agony that words cannot describe.
We did not want to give up on our son. We hired an attorney is Ust-Kamenogorsk to look into our adoption. Then we hired an attorney to sue AIP and make Orson Mozes accountable for what he had done to us and so many others. I also called the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office and filed a complaint. This was not the first time they heard of Orson! They had a case open since 2004/2005, but couldn't get victims to come forward. I set out on a mission to get as many people to come forward as possible. The senior investigator, Laura Cleaves, was the person assigned to the case and was a true angel! Less than one year later the State of California charged Mozes with 62 felonies. Sadly, a few weeks after Laura filed these charges, she was killed by a drunk driver. A new investigator has been assigned to this case, but Laura was the cornerstone of the investigation and she will be missed dearly.
Any attempts to describe the emotional and financial destruction wreaked at the hands of AIP will fall short of describing the true impact on our lives. We could not afford to continue fighting for our son under the circumstances. The Kazakhstan government was useless in responding to our pleas for help. They informed us we would have to start all over again! Furthermore, our son’s birthmother, in the meanwhile, had given birth to another boy that she immediately put in the orphanage. The government told us we would have to adopt him as well. Even though we agreed to jump through every hoop they placed in front of us ~ they would not even tell us if his newborn brother was healthy! To top it all off ~ they were putting our sons back on the national registry for six months, during which time any citizen could adopt them. They could not guarantee that even if we did everything they asked all over again…that we would come home with our sons. Considering that we blew the whistle on the corruption within the orphanage and Ministry of Education, we were certain our efforts to finalize our adoption would be thwarted and ultimately fail.
This experience has tainted every aspect of our lives. Not a single day goes by that we don’t think of our sweet boys. I have devoted considerable time and effort to removing Orson from the “adoption industry” and will continue to advocate for adoption reforms that place the needs of children first and demand an ethical adoption process. It is my hope that more adoptive parents and potential adoptive parents, as well as adoptees and firstmothers, will unite and demand, in unison, a transparent adoption process in which all members of the triad are treated with respect and dignity.