Friday, July 3, 2009

Local Article on Orson's Plea

Adoption scammer pleads guilty
By COLBY FRAZIER — July 3, 2009

A former Montecito businessman who swindled $800,000 from 59 hopeful parents through his adoption business, pleaded guilty in Superior Court yesterday to 17 felonies and a white-collar crime enhancement.

Wearing a light-blue shirt, dark pants and a tie, with shackles around his hands and feet, the defendant, Orson Mozes, said plainly that he was guilty, and acknowledged he felt “very comfortable” with the plea bargain he had negotiated with prosecutors.

Although the man won’t be sentenced until July 14, Senior Deputy District Attorney Paula Waldman said he most likely would be sentenced to three years and four months in state prison, with three years of parole. Mozes, 57, also faces a civil lawsuit in the state of Pennsylvania that was jointly filed by 17 of the adoption scam victims. Additionally, Mozes conceded to forfeit $300,000 in cash and gold coins that were seized from his Florida home. The funds will be used to repay the victims, some of whom, Waldman said, are owed amounts as high as $75,000.
The prosecutor said the plea represents justice for dozens of families who, in some cases, not only were stolen from but also felt as though their own child was taken away.

“There’s just so much heartbreak around this case …” she said. “I enjoyed hearing him say that word, ‘guilty.’”

Through his business, Adoption International Program, Waldman said Mozes would place Eastern European children up for adoption. When prospective parents would see the children’s pictures on the company’s Web site and inquire, she said Mozes would ask for money, a deposit of sorts to ensure the children weren’t offered to other parents.

But it didn’t end there. She said Mozes would string the hopeful parents along. In many cases, victims would travel to various countries to meet their child, only to discover that someone else had adopted the child.

Even so, Mozes would apparently explain his way out of these situations, saying that other children were available and could be adopted. In at least one case, Waldman said a couple traveled abroad three separate times only to be told on each occasion that the child they had come to love already had a home.

“He’s very smooth and makes for a very good con artist,” Waldman said. “I’m not sure how much remorse that he feels.”

Although Mozes had been in the adoption business since the 80s, Waldman said the 59 felony counts of obtaining services by false pretences occurred between 2004 and 2008.

Those 59 felony counts all represent people who were duped out of money and never received the child they were promised. However, Waldman said 16 of the couples successfully adopted a child through Mozes, though in most cases it was never the original child they had settled on.
During the investigation, Norma Hansen, a District Attorney investigator, said Mozes, after hearing authorities knew about his string of fraud, pointed out he had also overseen legitimate adoptions.

After divorcing his wife in 2007, Mozes, either to get away from his former wife or realizing authorities were closing in, fled to Miami, Fla.

While there, Mozes moved in with a woman who he said yesterday he plans to marry while in prison. Waldman said the woman allowed Mozes to move in and she even opened his bank accounts under her name.

According to court documents, Mozes was using the aliases Jack Rose and Jerry Brosse.
Had it not been for three arrests, one for driving without a license and two for shoplifting — Hansen said he got caught stealing candy and produce from a convenience store — it’s unclear when or if Mozes would have been caught. And even with these arrests, Miami authorities didn’t realize anything was amiss until after Mozes had been released on bail for the third time. But shortly after the third arrest, Waldman said police there realized Mozes was wanted in Santa Barbara and had been featured on the TV program America’s Most Wanted. He was arrested a short time later at his girlfriend’s apartment.

Authorities seized $300,000, a hefty chunk of which was in gold coins, court documents show. Waldman said a trunk of cash was also taken.

Waldman said the only hurdle to giving this money back to the people it was stolen from is Mozes’ ex-wife, who could claim some of the money belongs to her. Waldman, however, doubts any claim by the ex-wife would hold up.

But even if the entirety of the $300,000 goes to the victims, it’s still far less than Mozes took. Waldman said it’s unclear where the remainder of the funds will come from, though more civil suits could be filed.

As part of the plea agreement, Waldman said the 42 remaining felony counts levied against Mozes would be dismissed. The special allegation he pleaded guilty to was a white-collar crime enhancement, which comes into play when a person steals more than $500,000.

Aside from the good news the plea brought victims (Waldman said she’d heard from many who felt closure and were satisfied with the terms), she said the case is sentimental for many in District Attorney’s Office.

When the office first got the case, the late DA investigator Laura Cleaves was the lead investigator. Cleaves was killed by a drunken driver in May of 2008 while driving home to the Santa Ynez Valley after a late night at work. Cleaves’s vehicle was struck by a black Mercedes near the Highway 154, Santa Ynez River over crossing.

Waldman, choking back tears, said Cleaves was working late that night on the Mozes case.
“I believe that Laura is smiling right now,” she said. “The day she was killed she was working hard on this case.”

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