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  1. Pinellas

Both were pregnant jail inmates. Both pulled off adoption scams, say Pinellas deputies.

Two pregnant who agreed to give up their babies for adoption while in the Pinellas County jail are both accused of defrauding the adopting couples, according to deputies. Left: Ceara Stowe, 26, of Pinellas Park, faces two felony counts of adoption deception because she gave birth to twins. Right: Angelica Lopez, 30, of Largo, faces a single count in her case. [Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office]
Published Aug. 17

Two pregnant women who both agreed to give up their babies for adoption while incarcerated in the Pinellas County jail at the same time were both arrested this week for the same reasons:

Both are accused of accepting payment from the adopting couples, then breaking the agreements and deceiving the couples about giving birth.

Both women ended up back in jail this week.

Ceara Stowe, 26, of Pinellas Park, faces two felony counts of adoption deception because she gave birth to twins. Angelica Lopez, 30, of Largo, faces a single count in her case.

While the details of both cases are similar and both took place at about the same time, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said "there is no evidence that their decision to commit fraud was coordinated." The agency gave these accounts of both cases, which both involve the same firm handling the adoptions:

Stowe was arrested on Oct. 23 on a charge of strong arm robbery. She signed a pre-birth agreement to allow a couple from Nebraska to adopt her twins on Dec. 21, the Sheriff's Office said. She regularly communicated with the couple while in jail and after her March 4 release.

She told the couple she planned to induce labor on June 3. The couple continued to pay her expenses per the adoption agreement, deputies said. Stowe texted the couple on May 29 asking for $2,100 for rent, bills and an allowance of $250, according to the Sheriff's Office. The couple paid her.

Then on June 3, she texted the couple that she was going to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg hospital to have labor induced. When the couple arrived, deputies said, they discovered she had never been admitted. Stowe stopped responding to their text messages.

A firm assisting the couple with the adoption later learned that Stowe gave birth to twins on May 26, according to the Sheriff's Office, after she asked for and received the $2,100 payment.

Pinellas sheriff's investigators questioned Stowe on Wednesday. She acknowledged taking the couple's money and failing to tell them that she was "rescinding" the adoption agreement.

She was arrested and her mother was given custody of Stowe's newborn twins and her four other children. She was being held in the jail Saturday in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Lopez was arrested on Nov. 15 on a charge of child neglect. She signed a pre-birth agreement on Dec. 20 to allow a couple from Safety Harbor to adopt her child, according to the Sheriff's Office. Lopez got out of jail on Feb. 7 and started having weekly lunches with the couple.

On April 4, Lopez gave birth — but didn't tell the couple, deputies said.

She abruptly cut off communications in April, the Sheriff's Office said, but maintained a ruse that she was still pregnant. For instance, on April 17 she sent them pictures of her swollen feet and enlarged stomach that were actually taken while she was pregnant, according to the Sheriff's Office.

For the pending adoption, Lopez received three checks totaling $1,100 — which deputies said she deposited after she gave birth. At this point, the sheriff's Child Protection Investigation started an inquiry into the welfare of Lopez's newborn, the agency said.

An investigator contacted the firm assisting the couple with the adoption and informed them that Lopez had already given birth. Had it known that, the firm told investigators it would not have paid Lopez, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Investigators questioned Lopez on Friday. She acknowledged signed the pre-birth adoption agreement and accepting payment, the agency said, but decided not to go through with the adoption and did not inform the couple.

Lopez, 30, was arrested and taken back to jail. She was freed later Friday after posting $5,000 bail. Her child was placed with a caregiver.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes

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