Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State accuses former adoption agency chief of fraud

TAMPA — The former head of a statewide adoption agency has been arrested, accused of defrauding dozens of adoptive parents out of almost $200,000 in bogus medical and living expenses for birth mothers.

Debra W. West, 46, was charged with grand theft Thursday and booked into the Pasco County Jail without bail, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday.

The FDLE says West, the director of Adoptions by Choice, or ABC, from 1992 to 2005, overcharged parents for unnecessary living and medical expenses, including those for several birth mothers who were covered by Medicaid.

Investigators believe the fraud began in 2000 and totaled $188,008, of which $58,235 was for medical expenses covered by Medicaid.

The victims came from all across Central Florida — in Hills­borough, Pinellas, Pasco, Citrus, Sarasota, Marion, Brevard and Alachua counties, the FDLE said.

ABC started in 1990 and quickly became the Tampa Bay area's busiest adoption agency, with more than 100 adoptions a year. It touted itself as a not-for-profit Christian agency.

Workers said West frequently asked them to turn to prayer when things went wrong. In the mid 1990s, one adoption went badly wrong.

A young Pinellas woman handed over her infant to ABC, which placed him with an Alabama couple without notifying the biological father, who lived in Palm Harbor.

The father, who wanted to raise the baby, filed a paternity action in Pinellas County to find out what had happened to the boy. West and ABC's lawyer knew about the Pinellas suit, but pushed the adoption through in Tampa anyway without telling Hillsborough authorities.

By the time Florida courts sorted it out and gave the father custody, "Baby Sam" was almost 2. The adoptive parents then fought through Alabama courts. Baby Sam was 5 before the two sides settled on an arrangement that gave the biological father visitation rights.

State authorities documented 11 cases in which adoptions went awry and ABC took back babies after placing them.

Also, Thursday's arrest is not the first time ABC's finances have come to the attention of law enforcement.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigated ABC in the mid 1990s after former ABC workers complained that adoptive parents were often charged for bogus birth mother expenses. In one case, a Pinellas judge threw out $30,000 in supposed medical expenses when ABC could not provide documentation.

One former worker told authorities that she discovered several copies of "checks" to mothers in her files that couldn't match up with bills because they were written out of sequence.

The investigation was dropped because the adoptive parents, who were the alleged victims, refused to cooperate.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441. Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at nohlgren@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8442.

State accuses former adoption agency chief of fraud 08/29/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. PolitiFact Florida: Claim that 5.7 million noncitizens voted is wrong

    State Roundup

    President Donald Trump's unfounded allegations that millions voted illegally in 2016 is back in the news, with his supporters pointing to a new analysis that claims millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2008.

    Instances of noncitizens voting have been reported, but evidence points to a small number among millions of votes cast.  
  2. For Fourth of July, an American feast inspired by founding father Alexander Hamilton

    Cooking

    Are there a million things you haven't done? Is one of them throwing a patriotic party inspired by one of the founding fathers?

    Caribbean Pork With Potato Salad makes for the perfect Fourth of July meal.
  3. 'Baby Driver' literally turns heist movie genre on its ear, set to slick soundtrack

    Movies

    Buckle up for Baby Driver, a movie so full throttle cool that you want to fist bump the screen. Style is the substance of Edgar Wright's inventive heist flick, a fresh, masterful synching of music and getaway mayhem, as if La La Land's traffic jam was moving, armed and dangerous.

    Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for heist arranger Doc (Kevin Spacey). Plagued by tinnitus, Baby tunes out his distracting “hum in the drum” by listening to music while he drives.
Sony Pictures
  4. Former mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor
  5. Life after HB7069 to be discussed at Pinellas school district workshop

    Blogs

    The Pinellas County school district is still trying to navigate life after the controversial passage of HB7069.