Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tedi Hedstrom/ABW Being Investigated Part One

Update: 2:17 PM CST. Video is now uploaded to this story.

Adoption Agency Under Investigation Again
Posted By: Jackelyn Barnard 4 hrs ago

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- They sold everything to have a family of their own. They got rid of their motorcycle and even their BMW to adopt a child. But they say they have nothing to show for it.
First coast news first started looking into Tedi Bear Adoptions in 2003. As part of a state action, the agency surrendered their license in 2003. Then in 2005, The state sent them a demand to stop operating without a license.

Christina and John Hale's dream was to have a big family. The only problem is the two are unable to have children of their own.

So, they decided they wanted to adopt. "We went online and we were looking at some beautiful children." The Hale's say the moment they saw the little baby, they fell in love. Her name is Anna-Christina, but to them she is Emylee.

She is a little Guatemalan girl, the Hale's say they paid tens of thousands of dollars to adopt. "Emylee is our daughter. We love her," says John Hale.

But the Hale's say they have had to watch their daughter grow up in pictures. "It's been devastating. We watched her walk in pictures. Watched her crawl in pictures, receive her teeth in pictures. We've never heard her say momma or daddy," says Christine Runkle-Hale.

Emylee isn't at home in Blackshear, Georgia, with the Hale's and her six brothers and sisters. She is stuck in Guatemala in a web of adoption hurdles. "Here she is almost three-years-old and we were supposed to have her home when she was a baby."

The Hale's have been waiting for Emylee two and a half years. They met face-to-face in the fall of 2005, just weeks after she was born. Along with Emylee, the Hale's saw another Guatemalan baby girl named Emoria. The Hale's wanted both girls. The dream was they would grow up as sisters, but these days Emoria plays alone.

"It's gotten to the point where we don't even talk to them on the phone, because they'll say something and then say we didn't say that."

So, now we deal with them only by email," says Christine Hale. In August 2005, the Hale's say they contacted an adoption agency by the name of Adoption Blessings Worldwide. According to state records and tax returns, its office is located in Macon, Georgia, but its executive director, Tedi Hedstrom, lives in Ponte Vedra.

The Hale's say they used ABW for the adoptions of two other children, Emoria and Joshua. They say those adoptions went smoothly and quickly, but Emylee's adoption has been a different story. "They're wonderful to deal with while you don't question, and you don't have concerns and you play by their rules. But when you question, the first thing they do is they turn it around," says Christine Hale.

They say with Emylee, there has been a delay every step of the way. "Emylee's mother was a minor, and we were not told until in Guatemala, holding her in our arms. But even then we questioned, and they said it would only add a couple of weeks."

The Hale's say ABW failed numerous times to complete their paperwork properly. Then came the request for more money. "When they said jump.....we said how high. We were the first to jump."

Then the Hale's say there were other requests again for more money, all while there was no end in sight to Emylee's adoption. April 2007, Wendy from ABW tells the Hale's, in an email, that those working on the adoption, "...have to have the $1000 and also need foster care expenses.....unless they get help with the expenses, they are prepared to just stop altogether and not finish the adoption."

April 2008, Christine says she got an email from Tedi of ABW, saying, "They do not feel that you really want to adopt....Anna-Christina as they feel if you did you would want to take care of her needs and clothing. I explained to them that you love her very much but they do not think so."

Then there is another email saying Emylee's grandfather wants cash in order to cooperate. But a year before, in another email, ABW told the Hale's the adoption was delayed because the grandfather had died. "As soon as we questioned it they would come back on us like ya'll don't care about yall's daughter," says Christine Hale.

The response from ABW was Emylee's grandmother had re-married and this was the step-grandfather now wanting money. "We never fought back because they've always held the adoption of our daughter over our head and I think we've gotten to the point where enough is enough," says John Hale.

According to Georgia records, ABW once operated under a different name--Tedi Bear Adoptions. The same agency once based in North Florida. The same agency that came under fire in Florida in 2003 for numerous complaints about its service.

In 2003, the state of Florida sanctioned the agency, which agreed to close its doors. Florida's Department of Children and Families told Tedi Bear Adoptions and its executive director, Tedi Hedstrom, she could not operate in Florida for four years. That time is now up. "At the end of that time they were free to apply for a license and they have not reapplied for a license," says Diane Seymore of DCF.

But the Hale's say a lot of their adoption work was done in Florida. "Since august 12, 2005, every bit of wiring money we sent to ABW went to an account in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida," says Christine Hale. The Hale's kept a check ABW sent them. The check's labeled as Tedi Bear of Georgia. It is also attached to that same Florida Bank account the Hale's say they have wired money to.

We showed that check to the DCF. We also showed DCF what the First Coast News I-Team uncovered. We found a local community listing for Adoption Blessings Worldwide with a Ponte Vedra address and phone number. We found ABW's website is registered to Hedstrom's home in Ponte Vedra.

We also found invitations to ABW parties recently held in Atlantic Beach and Ponte Vedra. "We have some questions as to the possibility she may be placing some children through a Florida office. They should not be placing children for adoption in the state of Florida," says Seymore.

Last week, DCF sent a letter to Hedstrom and ABW warning to cease and desist operating a child placing agency without a license. DCF says it has also contacted the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office to investigate any possible criminal action.

First Coast News has learned that DCF and investigators from the Sheriff's office will meet this week about the case. We have also learned that DCF has spoken with Hedstrom and she admits, "...she has an office in her home and that she occasionally sees clients related to Adoption Blessings Worldwide in her home office." According to the DCF report, Hedstrom says that all files are kept in Georgia.

Thursday night at 11, investigator Jackelyn Barnard gets ABW's side of the story about the allegations. Jackelyn also talks to another family, who lives in Florida, and who says they paid $40,000 to ABW and have no children.

We will also tell you about another state agency investigating ABW and how state agencies are not the only ones taking action against ABW. That story is Thursday night at 11 on First Coast News. ©2008 First Coast News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

I'll be waiting impatiently for my mail carrier to arrive in the next few days. I spoke to an attorney with FL Department of Children as well as a licensing specialist and a copy of the thousand or so page investigation report is being shipped to me. I'm also getting a copy of the cease and desist order. It should be interesting reading. And here I was, planning to go to the library and get a juicy crime novel for the weekend. I suppose I can skip the library and read non-fiction instead.

Part Two will air at 11 tonight and some members of this blog roll finally will get to see what their attorney looks like. Including me. But then again, I am going to meet Joni in person when she appears as co-counsel at the next case management conference on July 29th for the LSSI lawsuit.

1 comment:

Brass Ovaries said...

Video is up on the ABW story. Honestly, have tissues handy. I'm wiping away the tears and honking my nose right now.

TV revamped their website yesterday so that is why there was a delay getting the footage up.