Maury Z. Levy

The Baby Peddlers

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on September 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm

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[Author’s note: This story led to major Congressional hearings in DC, led by Sen. Walter Mondale. The hearings resulted in new legislation. The story also won some awards.]

SHE ALWAYS THOUGHT it was a figure of speech. She’d hoped that one bearing her name wouldn’t have to lose its life. They were such lovable little things, so round and soft and white. But deep in the dawning of a cold Monday morning, the rabbit died. Crazy rabbit.

It created certain problems because Carrie and Jimmy weren’t married, even though they had told all of their relatives and most of their friends that they were, just to avoid the hassles. But when Jimmy found out about the baby, he didn’t exactly run out of the apartment to buy a box of cigars. He just ran out.

Carrie was 20 years old, a very thin girl with very small bones and very blue eyes and a head of blonde hair that was long and straight and fine. She didn’t tell the doctor at the clinic about her drug problem, even when he asked her about the scar across her right wrist. She didn’t want him to know that she’d been committed twice. She didn’t want them taking this baby away from her.

The thought of abortion had crossed her mind. It had certainly lodged in Jimmy’s. Carrie had always been pro-abortion too. In theory, for somebody else maybe. But this was her baby growing inside and she was going to have it and she was going to keep it and she was going to mother it. And then the lawyer called.

Rob and Sharon Josephson (not their real names) were in their late 20s. They’d been married six years. Rob had gone to Drexel and was working now for Westinghouse. Sharon had gone to Penn and then transferred out to Temple when the money got tight. She taught third grade now not far from where they lived in a small single home in Pine Valley.

They’d been trying to have a baby for over four years now. They’d spent a lot of time in their bedroom and a lot of time in doctors’ offices finding out why the stuff in the bedroom wasn’t working. And when it became clear that they couldn’t have a baby born to them, they decided to adopt one.

They started by calling some local adoption agencies. They were told that there were no healthy white infants available, and that even if one came up, they’d be down very far on a list of people who’d been waiting for months and years.

They tried half a dozen other agencies and got pretty much the same answer. They were getting very frustrated at the whole process. And then, late one night, this lawyer called.

THE LAWYER TOLD CARRIE that he’d gotten her name from “a friend of mine.” He thought maybe he could help her, since he understood she wasn’t going to abort the baby. “We’ve got some very fine parents who’d really love to have a baby like yours,” he told her. “They’d give it a very good home.”

Carrie told him she wanted to keep the baby. “Look,” he told her, “I know more about you than you think. I know you’re not   married. And I know what a problem it’s going to be for you raising that kid without a father. And how are you going to explain things to your family and friends? And how are you going to ever meet another guy or get another job? Things are going to be awfully rough on you if you decide to keep that baby. But I can help you out. I can get you the finest medical care. The doctor won’t cost you anything, the hospital won’t cost you anything, and I’ll even throw in some money for your trouble, you know, to help you get back on your feet again. How’s $5000 sound?”

Rob and Sharon Josephson wanted to know how the lawyer got their name. He said he had his sources. He said he knew they were in the market for a baby, and that he knew what a tight market that was, and that he thought he might be able to help. He had some doctor friends in the area who had access to white, healthy, newborn babies. He wanted to know if they’d be interested. And they wanted to know how much it would cost. He told them $8000.

They told him that was an awful lot of money. “Well,” he said, “we give it the best care. That doesn’t come cheap. I just about cover my costs out of the deal. And we all know what the market is like now. I’ve got plenty of other couples on the list. It’s up to you. Money’s a very relative thing, you know. Just how much do you want this baby?”  

CARRIE DECIDED THE LAWYER made sense, as long as he could guarantee that the baby would be placed in a good home right away. The only thing she didn’t want to do was give it up to an adoption agency. She was afraid the baby would just stay there for months while they went through all the paperwork.

Carrie was very confused. She knew she wasn’t the most stable person in the world. Maybe the baby would be better off with a nice couple who had some money. How was she going to raise a baby with no money? How was she even going to get along with no money, with or without the baby? That $5000 was starting to sound very good. She told the lawyer she’d go ahead with it. The lawyer told her he’d have to get a signature from her and one from her boyfriend and one from her parents, since she was under 21.

She told him that shouldn’t be any problem, that everyone would be very happy if she didn’t keep the baby, especially her parents.

“Yes, I know,” the lawyer said. “I’m a friend of your mother’s gynecologist.”

The Josephsons checked their bank book. Things had been pretty tough. Even with both of them working, they’d only managed to put away a little over $7500. They figured they should leave themselves at least a couple thousand in the account, just for emergencies. So they spoke to Rob’s father about borrowing $3000.

And they would put $5000 of their own in. Once they got the money together, they called the lawyer back. There was a bit of a hitch, he said. Another couple had called him and offered $10,000 for the baby. And they had the money in hand.

The lawyer said he felt he owed the Josephsons first crack at the baby. How did $12,000 sound?

They told him it was outrageous, that they couldn’t come up with that kind of money. He told them he was sorry, and he started to hang up. Rob and Sharon Josephson looked at each other quickly in the eyes. They didn’t have to say anything. Rob asked the lawyer if he’d give them a few more days to try to get the money together. The lawyer agreed.

They figured it out as quickly as they could. This time they went to Sharon’s parents for a $3000 loan. Rob wanted to take the final $1000 out of the bank, but Sharon said no, that they’d need that money to buy things for the baby. So she gave him her engagement ring.

“Go see your friend Vinnie,” she told him. “This ought to be worth a thousand bucks.”

CARRIE WENT A WEEK EARLY. The lawyer and his doctor friend moved things around quickly and got her a decent room at a Montgomery County hospital. The baby was a boy. They let her hold him and feed him and she started to get this feeling. This was her baby, and now she didn’t want to give him up.

She told the lawyer on the phone that she had changed her mind, that she wanted to keep the baby. A half hour later, the lawyer’s wife was at the hospital. She told Carrie all the things she already knew about how tough it would be. Carrie said she was willing to take that on now. She told her she would lose the $5000 and have to pay the doctor and hospital bills herself. Carrie said she would get the money together somehow. And then the lawyer’s wife put the screws on.

“A deal is a deal,” she insisted. “We’ve got a couple waiting for this baby. You’re not being fair to them. Do you want to break their hearts? Look, honey, a deal’s a deal.”

Carrie was very confused again. She was afraid she might be doing something illegal by backing out of the “deal.” So she agreed to go ahead with it, to give the baby up.

Two days later, the lawyer met Carrie and her parents at the hospital. The hospital, like most others, had this unwritten rule that the mother had to leave with the baby. They didn’t want the adoption process going on inside. So the transaction took place on the elevator, going down.

The lawyer gave Carrie an envelope. “What’s in that?” her father asked. “That’s her money,” the lawyer said. “Five thousand dollars.” “Oh no,” her father said, “you’re not taking any money from this man. What did we raise you for, to sell babies for money? Don’t you have any morals?” He took the envelope and shoved it back in the lawyer’s pocket. “Whatever you say,” the lawyer said.

Then he took the baby from Carrie’s arms. “Just one last thing,” he said to her parents, “just a formality. You’ve got to sign these papers because she’s a minor.”

They signed the papers at the bottom and then they looked up at the top. There were two words stamped across in very black ink. They said “UNWED MOTHER.” They looked at Carrie and Carrie looked at them and they all started to cry. The lawyer took the papers and the money and the baby and got off at the ground floor.

“Thanks,” he said. “And good luck.”

When the baby got to the Josephsons, there was another envelope waiting for the lawyer. This one had $10,000 in it. In cash, the way he’d asked for it. They’d already given him a deposit of $2000 in a check. That’s what would be presented at the final adoption hearing. And the Josephsons would have to perjure themselves by telling the judge that’s all they paid. But they figured it was worth it. After all these years, they finally had a baby.

Rob Josephson went into work at Westinghouse the next day and passed out cigars, Phillies cigars with little blue bands around them that said, “It’s a boy.” One of his office buddies kidded him about handing out such cheap cigars.

Rob Josephson swallowed hard and tried to laugh with him. “Well,” he said, “things are just a little tight now.”

THINGS ARE ESPECIALLY TIGHT in the baby business. And that’s pushed a lot of childless couples in the Philadelphia area, couples who’ve been made desperate by a severe shortage of healthy white infants, to turn to the mostly legal and increasingly expensive “gray market” or private adoption.

The “gray market” technique is a non-agency procedure that usually finds lawyers and doctors working together to find babies for couples who want them badly enough to buy their way around the long waits on agency lists. The doctor is often the initial contact, while the lawyer handles the money part of the deal, which includes the payment of medical and legal expenses. The cost can run as high as $25,000. This is where the gray market turns a little black.

Most professionals we’ve spoken to agree that, barring unforeseen problems, the cost of a private adoption handled by a lawyer dealing directly with the mother or obstetrician should run somewhere around $1500, all fees included. Yet many baby sellers around Philadelphia are getting a lot more than that. While there are a number of lawyers around who will still handle an adoption in the $1500 area, an increasing number of them are taking full advantage of the large demand and the short supply and charging what the market will bear. And the current market quotation for a healthy white infant in the Philadelphia area is between $15,000 and $17,000.

There are a lot of things to thank for the short supply. The pill and the wide acceptance of other contraceptive devices have cut deeply into the number of unwanted pregnancies. Liberalized abortion laws have helped those who decide against carrying a baby much past conception. And a lot of the stigma once attached to unwed motherhood has been eliminated for those who don’t want to abort.

Adoption agencies themselves have been unwittingly pushing many couples to the private gray market. The agencies, many of which used to have some children go begging for parents, are starting to close their lists in some cases because they just can’t get the babies anymore. And many of those which still keep open lists can promise nothing less than a waiting time of over four years. Adoptive parents who don’t want to wait that long are find­ing themselves dealing rather frantically in the gray market.

The gray market is often only one shade above the black market. And when profiteering lawyers and doctors get involved, it’s really hard to tell them apart. By definition, the black market involves the bypassing of legal procedures, as in cases where mothers have traded babies directly to couples for cars or cash.

A lawyer can get involved in the black market by stooping to falsification of birth certificates or other outright frauds. But, however you color the adoption procedure, it’s usually finalized by long green passing into someone’s hands, usually a lawyer’s, often to be shared with a doctor.

Many adoption agencies, especially the ones that can’t get babies, find themselves wondering how the private lawyers are so successful. Well, the legitimate ones charging normal fees of about $1500 to cover their expenses are having a lot of trouble themselves getting babies lately. But the lawyers who add on those extra bonuses for themselves don’t seem to be having much of a problem. They’ve formed a network. They’ve got people working and scouting for them, even procuring for them. They are in big business.

THERE ARE PREGNANCY TESTING CLINICS in this town where a lot of girls go to get the word of an unwanted pregnancy. At places like Planned Parenthood on Spruce Street, they are counseled on their options. But once the counseling sessions are over, the girls are often offered another option when they hit the street.

On pregnancy testing nights, the sidewalk outside of Planned Parenthood is often pretty crowded with options. Many of them are people from Right to Life groups who try to offer the girls information about carrying their babies to term. But some of the people on that sidewalk have been offering more than information.

Recently, one girl reported that she was offered $10,000 to keep her baby and give it up for adoption. She thought she’d been giving her name and phone number to an interested social service person. Instead, she’d given the information to the agent of a local lawyer. And the lawyer called to make her an offer she found hard to refuse.

That’s one way some lawyers get babies for sale. There are others. State statistics show adoption petitions were granted for 6615 children last year. Of that number, only 1700 were agency-related. The vast majority were listed as independent or private.

So where are all these private babies coming from? Certainly not all from the sidewalks of pregnancy testing clinics. Many of them come from the “baby farms.” These are places occupied by girls who are paid to stay preg­nant and by girls who are paid to get pregnant. One such farm is right here in center city Philadelphia. In addition to being a source of supply, it also serves as a halfway house for babies coming up from other farms. There are known farms in South America, Mexico, California and Texas. But the biggest operation goes on in the state of Florida.

Dade County detective John Farrell recently finished an investigation that led to the arrest of a well-known Miami baby-selling lawyer. Farrell recently followed the trail of one three-day-old infant sold to a South Jersey couple.

It’s hard to track down such cases from Florida since the present state law provides a loophole that fails to protect any children leaving the state. When Farrell heard of this recent transaction, he managed to find the natural mother on the street and determine through questioning that the baby had gone up to New Jersey for a very high price. If the case can be proved, the lawyer can be found guilty by a Florida court of a felony violation. But that’s always been the problem. Proving anything.

“There’s a flourishing black market,” Farrell says, “in babies leaving the south Florida area and going up to the big population areas in the Northeast. Clubs of adoptive parents in Philadelphia and other cities have the names, through the grapevine, of Florida lawyers who deal in babies.”

There are adoptive parents clubs in Philadelphia. And the people in them know they are being ripped off by these lawyers. But they want children badly enough to pay five-figure prices, and, when it comes to crunch, they refuse to give any real information to the authorities, afraid of either reprisal, prosecution for their own perjury or, the greatest fear, the loss of their adopted children. And with prosecutions almost non-existent, the baby business gets bigger all the time.

“We’ve had names of attorneys in the Miami Beach area,” Detective Farrell says, “who have their legal secretaries mothering groups of potential unwed mothers for the purpose of selling their children out of state. There’s a tremendous transient population down here, a lot of people with no family ties. A lawyer says to a girl, ‘We’re going to pay all your expenses and give you $1000 or more to boot’—it’s a fairly good inducement, especially staying down here where the climate is good.”

Farrell says the going price on babies coming out of Florida is “no less than $10,000,” with many lawyers charging $15,000 and higher.

“No one knows what they’re buying down here,” he says, “but they pay the money anyway. One girl just OD’d a few weeks after selling her baby. I got a call from a man in your area who was angry because he bought a baby who turned out to have a heart condition. There’s just no way of telling. These lawyers certainly don’t care. They’re just out to make their $15,000.

“And the horrendous aspect of the whole thing is that nobody knows where these kids are going or what kind of people they’re being sold to. Only the lawyer knows. And under Florida law, if we subpoena his records, he’s got automatic immunity from prosecution. There’s no protection provided for the infant. If you’ve got the money, you’ve got the kid.”

The baby farms of Florida aren’t even the strangest method of fattening the supply. You can custom-order your baby if you like and no one will ever be able to tell that it wasn’t biologically born to you. It’s a very expensive method, of course. Custom design usually is.

It works on the principal that usually only one of the two partners in a marriage is infertile. Let’s say it’s the woman, since female infertility is the area in which there are fairly good statistics. One in every seven women is infertile.

So that leaves the male partner still able to impregnate somebody. And that’s where the custom mixing comes in. There are always lawyers who will give you photographs of prospective sexual mates. A couple would then try to come as close as they can to matching the looks of the infertile partner.

There’s a girl in Philadelphia whose face pops up on a lot of those pictures. She’s in her 20s, a very good-looking girl with straight brown hair who is not married. She’s a girl who’s been pregnant twice in the past two years. She bore two children. And all she has to show for it is $100,000 in cash in a safe deposit box. She works through a lawyer in New York. And for $50,000 a pop, she’ll fly anywhere in the country to be artificially inseminated.

If you’ve got the right connections and can put together the right money in this business, you can do just about anything. You can even make a vacation out of it. One local couple picked up their baby in Brazil, in Rio. They stayed down there for six weeks while a lawyer made the right contacts for them. And they came home with a baby for $6000, plus traveling expenses.

But most people aren’t that exotic about it. Most people don’t know where to turn to adopt a baby, so they just grope around until they find a connection.

A couple we’ll call Rich and Lynda Watson, who live in Philadelphia, started their search in Teaneck, New Jersey. They heard there was a home for unwed mothers there where babies could be had. They took a ride up one Saturday.

“I felt like I was in Robert Hall,” Lynda Watson says. “There were just racks of cribs all lined up, each with a baby in it, from newborns to two weeks old. We could have had our pick. There was only one hangup. The priest who ran it wanted us to sign a paper saying we would raise the baby as a Catholic. Well, we’re not Catholic. We just couldn’t do that.”

The Watsons came home and started asking friends. One of their friends had adopted two babies in the last five years through a suburban Philadelphia lawyer. The friend told the Watsons she’d talk to the lawyer about them.

The first contact they had with the lawyer came a couple of months later, over the phone. “There’s a baby going to be born tonight,” the voice at the other end said. “Do you want it?”

“Yes,” they said.

There was only one stipulation. They had to go to the bank the next morning and withdraw $15,000 in cash. Even though Rich has a good job, it was close to their life savings. But they figured they could afford it, considering the circumstances. They agreed and a few hours later the lawyer called them up and said, “Congratulations, you have a son.”

LAWYERS QUOTING PRICES of babies over the phone might seem like a pretty stupid practice. Department stores don’t even do that anymore with toasters. But its common practice with many baby lawyers. Those who know they’re working just slightly inside the law have a great tendency to flaunt it. Several Philadelphia lawyers quoted ballpark prices over the phone to this magazine without hesitation. When WCAU-TV did an adoption series eight months ago, reporter Jim Walker ran into the same practice. His crew filmed one Northeast housewife talking to a Miami lawyer about adopting a baby that was then a six-month-old fetus, a fetus that already had a $10,000 price tag on its head. The lawyer also asked for a $1500 deposit before the baby was born.

The phone conversation was followed up with a letter from the lawyer, a letter that would make most ethical adoption attorneys cringe. The letter identified the baby’s 14-year-old mother by name. It also suggested that a $2000 deposit might be more appropriate. When he got that deposit, the lawyer wrote, he would send along a medical history and a photograph of the mother.

The name of the Northeast housewife with the Miami connection is Sharon Homer. She’s already an adoptive parent and she is waiting very nervously for word of yet another adoption. She is very worried about this one even though she and her husband have the money.

She is afraid that her television appearance might have gotten her blackballed from the private adoption market. She’d committed a cardinal sin on television. She’d blown the whistle on somebody. She became a target for a lot of angry adoptive parents who were afraid she might have helped WCAU build a case against private adoptions, afraid that the market would suddenly be closed down and that they’d lose their sources of babies, no matter what the price. As it turned out, nothing much came of the WCAU series. A couple of investigations were started, but they got quickly buried in red tape.

And Sharon Homer and her friend and neighbor, Joan Lebofsky, continued to help run something called the Delaware Valley Adoption Resource Exchange (DARE). Quite simply, DARE is the grapevine. It’s a group of adoptive parents who get together and exchange names of lawyers and doctors and often exchange adoption horror stories about arrogant lawyers demanding rewards for themselves.

Joan Lebofsky, three times an adoptive mother, tells the story of a friend who called one local lawyer saying she was interested in adoption and asking about his fees.

“It was $5000 last month,” the lawyer said. “But it’s $7000 this month.”

The friend said that was high and asked why the price had gone up.

“What do you want?” the lawyer said. “It’s just like the price of gas going up. If you want it badly enough, you’ll pay for it.”

“You find yourself thrown into this market.” Joan Lebofsky says. “You want children, or there are great pressures on you to have children, either from your parents or your peers, and you go to an agency and you get on a list and there’s where you stay. Then you talk to anyone you know to try to make a connection somehow.

“It can take from one to 500 phone calls. Most people end up going to a doctor who usually turns them over to a lawyer. You can only hope that both of them are honest. Too often, that’s not the case.”

“The routine is down pretty pat by now,” Sharon Horner says. “You call until you find a lawyer who says ‘I have a supply.’ And when you hear the price is going to be $7000, you know it’s going to be $12,000. There’s always that other couple with $10,000 in their fists. So then the lawyer just bids the baby off.”

For people like Sharon Horner and Joan Lebofsky, people from good, middle-class working families, the stakes can get very high. “It’s just a total emotional strain,” Sharon Homer says. “You feel like you’re having a nervous breakdown every time you talk with a lawyer. And the financial strain is just as bad. People in our situation sometimes have to end up selling everything to get a baby. You borrow from your parents, you borrow from anybody who’ll give you the money. I know a couple who’ve been strapped so badly by adoption lawyers that seven years later they’re still living with their parents.”

“It’s a matter of priorities,” Joan Lebofsky says. “You realize if you want a baby you’re just going to have to give up other things. Just look around.”

The Lebofsky home is modestly, if not sparsely, furnished. There is no dining room set in the dining room. “There’s our dining room set,” she says, pointing to one of her children. “We just thought it was a better investment.”

The Lebofskys, though, got off with a smaller price tag than most other adoptive parents. They are white, but they did not adopt totally white children. And that’s one thing that should be said about the market. There are many alternatives to buying white children if you’re a white couple. Most black adoption agencies won’t give their healthy black children to whites, as the demand for healthy black children also grows. But it is very possible and a lot less expensive to adopt a trans-racial or Vietnamese child.

But most people won’t go that route. Instead, they’ll find themselves subjected to all kinds of hell. “There’s one lawyer in town,” Sharon Horner says, “who seems to get great pleasure out of torturing parents. She goes to Florida and she gets the babies, and when you go to court, she doesn’t give you the birth certificates. She holds onto it. She starts out quoting you a $3000 or $4000 price and then there’s always that call. ‘Guess what happened?’ And it’s always something to push the price up. And if you give her any trouble, she tells you you’re lousy parents and that maybe she should give the baby to someone else.

“She’s typical of a lot of lawyers in this town. Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of honest ones. Look, the last thing we want is to do away with private adoptions. We’d be cutting off our nose to spite our face. We just want to get it into the hands of honest lawyers and doctors. We’re sure there are plenty of them out there. All we’ve got to do is find them.”

ALFRED KALODNER IS ONE of those honest doctors. He’s a top Ob-Gyn man who’s been delivering babies around Philadelphia for over 20 years. In the past few years, he’s found himself helping patients find sources for ethical private adoptions. Of late, he’s become somewhat of a crusader against the high-priced kind. It all started the first time he got burned.

“The patient was a registered nurse, unmarried, about 24, a fairly mature girl. I saw her when she was seven weeks pregnant. I gave her the options: marriage, single parenthood, abortion, adoption. The father ruled out marriage and she didn’t want to raise the child on her own, but she had no plans to abort it. So she chose adoption.

“I called an attorney and told him the story. He said that it was a perfect story, with clean, healthy parents. And I had a family in my practice who couldn’t have children because of a medical problem. I put them in touch with the lawyer.

“And on a Sunday morning, when she went into labor, I called the lawyer. But I told him not to tell the parents yet until we could check the health of the baby. Everything was fine. The adoptive parents were told. I spoke to the girl and told her that the lawyer would be in the next day to get the final papers signed. I told her not to worry about the hospital bill or anything, that he would take care of that. At that point I should have picked up that there was something wrong because she just didn’t say anything.

“The lawyer saw her the next day and called me to say she wasn’t putting the baby up for adoption. I went to the hospital and she told me that she was putting the baby up, but that it was a long story and it wouldn’t be through the attorney I recommended.

“My attorney said she’d made a slip and told him the name of the other lawyer, the one who was now handling the baby. A girlfriend of hers worked for this guy and told her she was stupid just to give the baby up for adoption. She told her she could make money on the deal. She brought in the lawyer and he offered her $10,000. He gave her $5000 in advance and said that the other $5000 would be paid when he picked up the baby.

“When I saw her two days later, well, I was probably too emotional. I told her she had worked her way out of her problem by one of the most inhumane ways she could find.”

Under the normal procedure, followed by Dr. Kalodner and most other reputable professionals, the girl would have gotten no money. But she would have had all her medical fees paid, a first class hospital, a private room. Instead, she opted for 10,000 bucks from a lawyer who’ll probably be getting twice that.

“Who knows,” Kalodner says, “he may not even be the one placing the baby. He may just be the procurer.”

Kalodner agrees that things have come to this because a lot of people are getting desperate. There are older kids available from foster homes, but just about everybody wants a newborn. “A lot of people look at it like the difference in buying a new car or a used car,” Kalodner says. “They don’t want a five-year-old kid. It’s like getting someone else’s headache. If you get a four or five-day-old baby, that’s a new car. It’s as close to having a baby as you can get.”

Kalodner says that while he finds himself involved in gray market adoption by definition, it’s not the best social method, that often there just aren’t enough checks on the stability of the parents. But he says most people have been forced into the market because the social services, the agencies, got to such a point that people had to rebel against them.

“It’s a terrible business to be involved in,” Kalodner says. “Every time I handle one I say I’m never going to do it again. But then somebody in need comes up and asks you to help, and how can you say no? You just hope that some shifty lawyer doesn’t get to her first and bribe her into changing her mind. And you hope you don’t have to face telling the adoptive parents about it.

“That’s worse than telling someone they’re going to die of cancer, calling them up and saying, ‘You know that baby that you were to get, the one born two days ago? Well, the mother’s changed her mind.’ ”

Kalodner realizes the baby-selling racket is not an easy one to clean up. He says he knows of doctors right here in Philadel­phia who’ve offered pregnant girls money to keep their babies and put them up for adoption at a profit. He said he even spoke to the partner of one of these doctors about it and got nowhere. No one is willing to admit anything. And people who’ve been involved are even less willing to step forward with proof.

Kalodner says without this proof it’s useless to take anything before a medical discipline committee. Not that the committee would do much anyway.

“In this world,” he says, “there are too many bleeding hearts and not enough fighting hearts. Everyone wants to bleed a little, but not enough to get anemic.”

ONE OF THE BIGGEST private adoption duos in the city tends to agree with Kalodner, that the way things now stand, there’s not a hell of a lot that can be done. Ray and Estelle Rubens have been in the private adoption business for 17 years, Ray as the lawyer and Estelle as the paralegal person who sets the whole thing up. And now they’re trying to get out of it.

“We won’t compromise,” Estelle Rubens says. “It’s got to be our way or not at all. If the girl wants five cents, we won’t go near her.”

Estelle Rubens says the cost for a private adoption should not go over $2000, including everything. Unless there’s some abnormal medical problem.

“You set a legal fee by the hour,” she says. The fact that there is less availability of children does not mean that you are spending more time. If you’re paying $5000 or more, then where’s the money going? When you’re giving a set figure, then you’re selling something. By the pound.

“People call me all the time and tell me they’ve been approached with a large figure, between $5000 and $10,000, often more. I tell them not to do it. I tell them they’re going to have to perjure themselves in court, and that’s a damn shame. But I can’t always offer a quick alternative.

“Parents just shouldn’t pay that much. If you were in the market for a Mercedes-Benz, would you pay an exorbitant figure, sight unseen, not knowing what the problems are, no matter how much your tongue was hanging out? There’s just no excuse for it. Period.”

“YOU’VE GOT TO PROVE IT,” one honest local lawyer says. “You get me the best investigator in town, he can’t prove it. I know what’s going on, you know what’s going on, but who the hell can prove anything? Who can put these whores out of business?”

As an interesting outgrowth of the intensification of the baby-selling business, this lawyer asked not to be identified by name in this story. And it wasn’t because he didn’t want to be quoted. He says that so many lawyers have become whores in this business that he was afraid to be identified as an honest lawyer. He was afraid his phone would never stop ringing. And that would be a problem since adoptions are not his main business.

“Babies are at such a premium today,” he says, “that you’re never going to get anyone to own up to it. The lawyers aren’t going to tell because they’re making a ton, the doctors are making a ton, and the people who want the babies aren’t going to say anything, either for fear of reprisal or for fear they’ll never get another baby.”

He says the only reason he gets involved in adoptions is to keep his friends from getting ripped off. “I die a little bit every time I do it,” he says. “There’s always something to go wrong.”

Recently, his supply of babies was all but cut off. He’d been dealing with a doctor he’d gone to school with, a younger guy who would give him referrals. There was no exorbitant price involved, no cut of the action. Well, it turned out the younger doctor was in practice with an older doctor and when the older doctor found out about the no-profit motive, he blew his top.

“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled. “We’re supposed to be getting something out of this. You’re blowing our cut!”

Our lawyer tells us that, just as in the ambulance-chasing accident racket, lawyers will make calls solicit­ing doctors as contacts for babies. A common target, he says, are young doctors whose favors are often won over a nice dinner. It’s a lucrative thing for a doctor on the make. His cut might be about $5000.

“If adoption agencies could be regulated better, you wouldn’t have a lot of this going on. But the agencies have their lists of applicants and they just sit back and play God with them. And it’s a terrible position to be in. I know because I’ve had to do it myself.

“And I guess I’m really not fair, because I usually call someone who already has one baby. It’s a hell of a position to be put in. Who the hell am I to judge, to decide if someone who has one should have another? If I give one a brother or sister, I leave another family childless. I hate it, but I’ll stay in it until these slimy, flesh-selling bastards are flushed out.

“But you need diligence for that. You need a judge who’s going to de­mand to see bank accounts to track down cash transactions. And nobody’s going to do that. Those judges know what’s going on as well as anyone else, but they’re not about to do anything either.”

JUDGE NICHOLAS CIPRIANI presides over adoption hearings in Philadelphia. And Cipriani has stated publicly that he doesn’t specifically ask a lawyer’s fee at those hearings. He says the law doesn’t require an attorney to state his legal fee in an adoption.

That, adoption lawyers tell us, is open to interpretation. Section 333 of the State Adoption Code states that the report of the intermediary should include the fee or expense paid to the intermediary by any person by reason of the adoption placement. Many lawyers get around that by listing another party, like their secretary, as intermediary, or by just lying.

A similar procedure, or lack of one, is followed by judges in adjoining counties, where the attorney’s fees, Judge Cipriani says, are considered “a private matter.”

BABS AND MARK DOLIN, a local husband and wife adoption lawyer team, agree with Cipriani. They got interested in handling adoption cases when the two of them decided they wanted to adopt children themselves.

Babs Dolin says that, considering the adoptions they’ve handled, a couple of thousand dollars is not necessarily the legitimate limit on what a fee should be. She says, with all costs considered, that $5000 is not an outrageous fee.

Nathan Posner, who says he’s handled one adoption in 40 years, is chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. He says he’s watching the situation very carefully, but hasn’t been able to do anything, again for lack of proof.

“One woman,” he says, “told me she called lawyers and one of them told her he wanted $5000. It’s beyond my comprehension that any lawyer would say that over the phone. Now if I had evidence that that was said, I could do something. I just can’t see that anybody would charge that.

“That’s bartering in babies. If that exists, there’s a criminal law which would make this lawyer subject to criminal prosecution for it, plus disbarment.

“I just think it is wrong in a normal case, where there is nothing brilliant performed on the part of the attorney, but he performs a functional duty, for him to decide that he is entitled to a fee above that for which his services were rendered. Because there’s nothing extraordinary in an adoption. Either the facts are with you or they’re not.

“And if a lawyer is making a lot of money, I’d want to know whether he’s disbursed any funds out of his fee to a doctor or anyone else, which is illegal of course. Completely illegal.”

Pennsylvania law is pretty precise about the whole baby business. The state statute states that “a person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree if he deals in humanity, by trading, bartering, buying, selling, or dealing in infant children.”

It seems clear enough. Yet nobody will officially admit it’s going on. But they all know it in private. The baby-selling market is not exactly a secret. Even the agencies, the agencies everyone is so quick to knock, know full well what’s going on.

“I’VE, HAD ATTORNEYS call me,” says Catholic Social Services head Sister Mary Bartholomew, “good Catholic attorneys. ‘I’ve heard you do a good study,’ they say, ‘could you give me people on your list? I have a girl.’ I tell them absolutely not. There’s no money offered.”

Sister Mary Bartholomew takes a strong stand against private adoption, as strong a stand as those in the private sector take against agencies. “Devious methods are used,” she says. “An unwed mother gets no caseworker and a couple gets no education about being adoptive parents.”

The agency fee scale is much lower than that for a private adoption, even a legitimate one. It never exceeds $800. And Sister Mary Bartholomew denies private reports that donations to the church can help an adoptive couple move up the list. She says no donations are asked above the regular fee.

Before a couple can get on the list, the agency does a full study of them, everything from their financial picture to their sex habits. After a six to eight-month study, the usual waiting period is now an additional six months to a year. The agency gets its babies from a lot of the same avenues as the private people. Some come from local girls, but “we get quite a few from Florida and even Mexico.”

The agency placed 123 children in Philadelphia last year. And there are 73 couples on the approved list who’ve been waiting over a year.

“We’re not an immediate gratification society,” Sister Mary Bartholomew says. “That’s what some people don’t like. They don’t want to wait.”

The agency boasts there are no religious criteria for adoption. “But,” the Sister says, “no healthy white children will be placed in non-Catholic homes. But we will service them with Korean, Vietnamese or Filipino children.”

The Catholic agency seems to be doing better than most. The Jewish Association for Children reports that last year that agency placed only one child. And the couple at the top of their list now has been there since August 1973.

People at at least a dozen other agencies that handle adoptions in this area paint just as bleak a picture. Many of them have closed their waiting lists, knowing that the babies just won’t be coming. Others are still going through the futile exercise of investigating couples and putting them on the list. The way the market’s going, it’s little more than false hope.

One local woman reported she was on one of those lists for 22 years. Several years ago, she finally turned around and bought a baby from a private source for over $10,000. But she still calls the agency every so often, just to see what they say. “Oh,” they tell her, “will you please be patient.”

As one agency head said, “If somebody doesn’t do something about all this black market dealing we’ll all have to close down, and the whole thing will Abe in the hands of the shysters. Even the honest private sources will dry up.”

Well, you’ll be thrilled to know that nobody is doing anything about it, at least not locally. Sure, the Bar Association is “watching” it. And the county medical society is “looking out for it.” Local judges aren’t doing a damn thing. The district attorney’s office can’t even find a report that was handed to somebody there eight months ago. And a State House investigating committee has been pronounced dead, thanks to lack of ability to discover any concrete evidence.

Nobody’s really doing anything. The authorities don’t seem to really give a damn. They say there’s nothing they can do. Well, let them tell that to that nice couple who were supposed to get that nurse’s baby, the one a lawyer bought from her for $10,000 and sold to someone else for $20,000. Go tell that to them. Maybe they can fill their crib with it.

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  1. This is a very interesting article.

    And of course, all of these big adoption entities lobby to keep records closed. None of these big adoption entities wants anyone to know about the mother who was coerced out of raising her baby.

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