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AG asks judge to order audit of nonprofit adoption agency

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Attorney General Lori Swanson said Wednesday she wants to delve into the books of a New Hope-based nonprofit adoption agency after more than a dozen complaints from Minnesotans who tried to adopt foreign babies.

Swanson asked a Hennepin County judge to order an audit of Reaching Arms International Inc. Documents filed by her office described delays and problems experienced by couples who paid the agency $15,000 and up.

"It’s been the worst thing we’ve ever been through," said Angela Lair, whose adoption of a Guatemalan infant girl never happened even though she and her husband paid more than $17,000.

Lair spoke at a news conference where Swanson urged the state Human Services Department to consider disciplinary action against Reaching Arms. The department oversees Minnesota adoptions.

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The Human Services Department has received 19 complaints about Reaching Arms International and is investigating, but the probe is confidential, spokeswoman Katie Bauer said.

Reaching Arms International’s president, Nila Hilton, vowed in a prepared statement to cooperate. She noted that her agency is audited each year as required by the Human Services Department. Hilton declined to discuss specific cases because of client confidentiality.

"Our books and records are open," she said in the statement. "We are confident that this will all come out fine."

The Web site bills Reaching Arms as an adoption agency "inspired by God to help needy children throughout the world," placing children from Russia, Ukraine, Guatemala, Poland and Armenia.

Swanson said the organization might have broken state laws that restrict adoption agencies from charging large fees too early in the adoption process, bumping up fees unexpectedly and threatening to hold up adoptions if it doesn’t collect.

Lair and her husband, Joshua, of Glenville, said they became suspicious when Reaching Arms gave them pictures of their would-be daughter that didn’t match up. They took the photographs to a pediatrician, who said they showed at least two different babies.

Now they’re suing Reaching Arms to recover their money so they can try to adopt through another agency.

Another woman who is trying to adopt through Reaching Arms grew tearful when she held up a photograph of a black-haired Guatemalan girl.

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"This is Josephine," said Christine Moulder of Minneapolis. "She’s almost 14 months old. We don’t know when we’re going to get her."

Moulder said she became uncomfortable during a parent training held by Reaching Arms that focused on sin and the devil, and declined to participate in more such sessions.

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