Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Attorney general seeks to get money back for families from adoption company

Local families that lost thousands of dollars when an international adoption agency went out of business have a chance of getting reimbursed.

State Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Commonwealth Adoptions International Inc., saying it violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act, according to a news release from his office.

Goddard said the adoption agency, which operated out of Tucson and three other locations, failed to refund nearly $215,000 to families when it closed July 31. The suit names the agency as well as its president, Marina Mayhew; its director of operations, Dawn Hill; and board members Jim Sellers, James Mayhew, Dan Bish and William Hundelang, the release said.

Commonwealth’s closure initially left 340 families, including 44 from Tucson, in the midst of the international adoption process in the lurch, said the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which handles adoption agency licensing.

Goddard said about two dozen Arizona families requested refunds when they never received the services promised by Commonwealth.

Refunds were denied, he said, for various reasons, one of which was the agency had pooled the money and used fees paid by one set of parents to finance adoption services for other families.

One set of prospective parents in Goddard’s lawsuit, who were not named, paid the agency as much as $11,200 for services that were never rendered, according to court documents.

Goddard’s lawsuit aims to prohibit the defendants from conducting future business in Arizona and to make monetary restitution for damages.

The lawsuit says the defendants should be required to pay $10,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, fully refund fees collected from each family that was defrauded and pay the state for all investigative costs and legal fees.

Commonwealth’s demise came soon after the agency was denied accreditation under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions.

The convention, designed to prevent illegal trafficking of children, set higher standards that agencies and parents had to meet for international adoptions. It went into effect April 1.

Tucsonan Tom Stevens and his wife took the agency to court in 2006 after their efforts to adopt a child from Colombia failed. Colombian authorities require an extensive psychological evaluation of prospective parents before any adoption is approved.

Stevens, 64, said the evaluation came back with statements that were not true, and he brought it to his caseworker at Commonwealth with the hopes of refuting the evaluation or getting it redone.

Instead, he said, the caseworker submitted it to Colombia, and the adoption process was terminated. The court awarded the Stevenses $1,100 in a partial refund of Commonwealth fees, records show.

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