FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Back in September in a special report, KNWA uncovered the flaws of the adoption process in Arkansas. We showed you an industry with little oversight and unethical practices from both attorneys and families.
In a KNWA special investigation, I spoke exclusively to a couple who was cheated out of thousands of dollars when they were promised a child who never even existed.
In this special investigation, I poured through dozens of pages of a lawsuit which details the elaborate lies one northwest Arkansan told to deceive a hopeful family.
“In hindsight, I think we were so excited at the prospect of becoming parents that we wanted to only see the positive,” said Kristina Partin, a prospective adoptive parent.
For years, Travis and Kristina Partin of Kentucky couldn’t conceive the child they always wanted.
After suffering through three miscarriages, adoption became the final option. When matched with Northwest Arkansas adoption attorney, Vaughan Cordes, and prospective mother, Jacklynn Aen, it appeared all of the pieces were coming together.
“We just got excited. Just the thought of, ‘this might work out for us one day! This might be it,'” Kristina Partin said.
Over the next few months, the Partins wired over $30,000 for “adoption support”, money meant to go towards essential care for Aen. But court documents show it actually went towards things like car repairs, utilities and even jail bond.
“This is not income, this is reimbursement of legitimate expenses,” said Josh Bryant, who currently represents the Partins.
Bryant says it all came down to trusting the attorney in charge.
“We just put our trust in him that if he wasn’t worried, that we shouldn’t be worried, which was obviously not the case,” Kristina Partin said.
Finally, the due date arrived and so did the Partins. But that’s when the bad news also arrived.
“He said, there is no baby. She’s been lying to us from the beginning,” Kristina Partin said.
“When she got the news that there was no child, she dropped the phone and wept uncontrollably,” Bryant said.
“We spent that entire time getting ready for a daughter that we had named. We have a whole nursery full of stuff for that child. We had a baby shower in Georgia,” said Travis Partin.
Aen has been charged with a felony: Defrauding a prospective adoptive parent. Cordes has been served a lawsuit by the Partins and their new lawyer.
Cordes refused to comment in-person for this story.
“I’m not going to give you information about my business and what goes on with my business,” Cordes said over the phone. “Because of the ethics involved, with attorneys, we are unable to discuss any client matters. Not that I don’t want to share or have my voice, it’s that we are bound by professional ethics to not discuss a client’s case.”
The phone conversation was the only time Cordes responded after several repeated attempts to make contact with him over the course of a week-long investigation.
Bryant is working with the Partins to make things right. The lawsuit aims to recover the $30,000 in actual damages and an additional $1,000,000 in punitive damages.
We’re going to pour the facts of what we can prove and apply the fire of the law and what comes out on the other side should be justice,” Bryant said.
But as for the couple, they aren’t giving up.
“There can be a lot of pain in the adoption process. It can be a heart-breaking experience, unfortunately. If we can maybe make some positive changes in the laws, that might help protect other families struggling with fertility problems and things like that,” Kristina Partin said.
Bryant has proposed a plan to lawmakers which he hopes to get on the floor in the next legislative session. It will cap birth mother expenses at $10,000 and enable more judicial oversight once an adoption match is made.
To read the original speical report on the adoption process in the Natural State, especially as it relates to the Marshallese population in Northwest Arkansas, click here.