SEMINOLE — The 5-year-old was excited to start kindergarten Tuesday in Tampa.
Jim and Betty Gardner, who have helped raise the boy since he was an infant, were working hard to prepare him by establishing a morning routine.
Now, they're worried how his first school year will begin.
The child was taken into protective custody Saturday after authorities arrested his mother and accused her of trying to sell him to the Gardners for $2,000.
Jessica Mickles Beers, 28, whose last known address was in Seminole, was charged with felony sale of parental rights. At her first court appearance on Sunday, bail was set at $10,000.
Gardner, 58, said he and his wife met Beers when the boy was just a few months old after she called their church for assistance. They took food and diapers to her.
Beers essentially was homeless, but was living with other people. She asked to move in with the Gardners and they agreed, Gardner said.
For the next five years or so, the Gardners, who have fostered numerous children over the years, helped take care of Beers and her child.
The boy's biological father has not been in his life since he was an infant, Gardner said.
About two years ago, Beers began talking about having the couple take guardianship of her son but never followed through with it. Early Saturday, Gardner said, Beers called him and offered to sign away her parental rights if the Gardners would pay her $2,000.
"It was money or else …" Gardner said. "I thought 'Whoa, that's illegal.' "
He contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which arrested Beers at a Seminole grocery store when she came to collect the cash.
The child was not with Beers, but she told authorities where he could be found, Gardner said. Gardner said he believes Beers is addicted to prescription drugs.
The boy loves to play video games and watch The Incredibles, Gardener said. Gardner said he and his wife are worried and would like to have temporary custody of him so he can start school on time and have the stability they've been trying to provide.
Pinellas County court records show Beers pleaded guilty to grand theft in April 2010. Adjudication was withheld, which means she was not formally convicted. She received two years' probation and was ordered to pay $500 restitution to Burger King, records show.
Other than the grand theft charge, she does not have a criminal history in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
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The arrest Saturday marks the second time in about a year that a tipster from Hillsborough County alerted authorities to a suspected child sale.
A Central Florida woman, Patty Bigbee, was sentenced this month to five years in prison for a scheme to sell her infant grandson for $30,000.
In that case, the "buyer" was a daughter of Bigbee's from Valrico, who said she had been solicited for money by her mother.
That daughter, Danielle Skiver, tipped off investigators. Skiver had been given up for adoption by Bigbee almost 30 years ago and had not seen her biological mother all that time.