Thousands of children are adopted in the US each year, according to statistics collected by the Children's Bureau, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Many people want to adopt, and competition for available children is high. And the adoption process itself is usually a long and stressful process. That's why many would-be parents hire an adoption attorney to help. Who better to make sure things are done properly and quickly?

That's probably what Deborah and Milton Josephs and several other couples thought when they hired New York attorney Kevin Cohen for help with their adoptions. He's been accused, however, of running a nationwide adoption scam.

The Scam

The Josephs had already adopted one child, and they were trying to adopt another. For two years they worked directly with several birth mothers, and even placed newspaper ads looking for a child to adopt. Each time they found a willing birth mother, however, she either let another couple adopt her child or kept the child herself.

That's when they met Kevin Cohen, a New York-based attorney who, the lawsuit claims, presented himself as a legal expert on adoption proceedings. It's alleged that he collected between $20,000 and $40,000 from would-be parents, and the money would be used to pay the hospital and medical expenses for the birth mothers. The birth mothers had already agreed to let the parents adopt their babies, Cohen assured them.

In the Josephs' case, Cohen said he had two birth mothers lined up for them, and so, the Josephs thought, they were practically guaranteed a baby. 

The mothers and the babies didn't exist, however. In a Ponzi-like scam, Cohen kept some of the money for his personal use, and gave back some funds to couples whose "adoptions" fell through by using money given to him by other, newer parents. The Josephs claim that they paid Cohen over $60,000. Since his arrest, 15 other couples from across the nation - such as Ohio and Texas - have come forward claiming to be victims of the scheme.

Adoption Help

Under the laws in most states, an individual or company that helps parents in the adoption process must have a license. The license is typically issued in the state where the person actually runs the business. If he works in more than one state, he usually needs a license from each state where he does business.

Lawyers typically don't need a special license to help with adoption work. Rather, attorneys have licenses to practice law in states in which they qualify, apply and pay for a license. So, an attorney may be allowed to practice in one state only, or he may be licensed to practice in several states.

The Josephs trusted Cohen because of his experience with adoption - he himself was adopted as a child - and his continuing work in the adoption area. He claimed to an expert in adoption law, and founded the Adoption Annex, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping anyone looking to adopt.

Know Who You're Dealing With

The Josephs admit that they were suspicious after a while and they should have been more suspicious earlier. Deborah Josephs also gives would-be parents some good advice: Know who you're dealing with. Before trusting your hopes and money to an attorney or any other adoption "expert," you should:

  • Ask for references from couples and parents who've used her services in the past, and don't hesitate to contact those references and ask their opinions about the service they got
  • If you're working with an attorney like Cohen, contact the bar association of the state where she's practicing and ask if any complaints have been filed against her. If she claims to be licensed in more than one state, contact each state's bar association  
  • Contact the adoption agency in your state and ask if the professional has worked with the agency in the past, how many times, and if any complaints have been filed against him
  • If your involved in an international adoption, contact the US Department of State's Office of Children's Issues and ask if it has any experience with the professional you're considering hiring

Don't give out your money or your trust blindly. Take some time to learn about the person whose help your seeking and make sure he's everything he claims to be. Trust yourself and instincts. Don't be too distrustful, though. There are a lot of lawyer jokes out there, and dishonest lawyers like Cohen justify many of those jokes and some of that mistrust. Not all lawyers are like Cohen, though. Do your homework and ask the right questions, and you'll be able to find the right person to help your parenting dreams come true.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How many adoptions have you handled in the past? How many fell though, and why?
  • We were contacted by a birth mother after we ran a newspaper ad. For seven months we've been paying her medical bills, and now she sounds like she changing her mind about the adoption. Is there anything we can do? If we can't get the baby, can we at least get out money back?
  • Can our adopted child get access to her adoption records later in life?

Tagged as: Family Law, Adoptions, adoption scam, adoption scheme