MEXICAN BABIES SOLD FOR THE ADOPTION INDUSTRY

You know the FBI must be really busy these days. I wonder if they have started pulling their hair out yet. I heard this story on Paul Harvey earlier today. I was told an icky secret about Mexico a couple of years ago. I thought it was an odd situation. A coworker told me that if she died her hair black, that she could go into Mexico and bring home an infant with no questions asked. I even spoke with an adoption agency director about this recently. She wasn’t surprised about it and even pondered that question herself.

This story comes out and blows it wide open. So fifteen adoptees will probably be sent home because their paperwork was not proper. The mothers were either forced to conceive by these folks or were in extreme straights. These women were paid quite a pretty penny.

Here is the story. Shocking! NOT.

REYNOSA – Amado Torres Vega sees his work as a simple act of charity.

He rescues newborn children from a life of poverty in Mexico and helps place them with financially stable couples in the United States, he told Mexican police this week.

But authorities on both sides of the border believe the 64-year-old Harlingen man’s assistance was with a price.

Over the past year, they say, he bought at least 15 children from poor Mexican women and sold them to adoptive parents in the United States. Some of the women reportedly got pregnant over and over simply to collect a paycheck.

According to Mexican authorities, they include:

* a 39-year-old mother who told police she carried three children to term for Torres so she could pay medical bills for a 9-year-old daughter suffering from bone marrow cancer; she would also save the babies’ umbilical cords for Mexican stem cell treatments on her daughter before selling the newborns.

* and a 21-year-old suffering from AIDS who got pregnant and sold a child to pay for her own care.

Throughout the process, he may also have had help from accomplices north of the border, authorities said Wednesday.

Now, the FBI is investigating whether any of the U.S. businesses and individuals that assisted Torres in placing the children in homes as far as Michigan knew from where the children came.

Nearly, if not all, the mothers who sold their babies to Torres are from Rio Bravo, authorities say.

THE SCHEME

Mexican state police in Tamaulipas charged Torres with child trafficking Monday, after they say he admitted to paying $2,500 to an inmate in the Reynosa city jail to take possession of her 21-day-old child.

Upset over the exchange, the baby’s grandmother reported him and his girlfriend – Maria Isabel Hernandez, 25 – to authorities, who later found the baby at a home in Rio Bravo.

As details began to emerge about the man’s reported activities, police realized the child was likely only the latest in a string of questionable transactions.

Mexican investigators say Torres told them he paid at least nine pregnant women between $2,500 and $3,000 each for newborn children.

In many cases, he reportedly helped smuggle the women across the Rio Grande so their babies could be born as U.S. citizens, making them more easily adoptable in states as far north as Michigan and Tennessee.

Authorities are still unsure exactly how the children were put up for adoption in the United States or whether any of the adoptive families paid Torres directly.

But they say Torres claims he only skirted immigration and adoption laws to give the children a better life.

“He said he’s doing a good thing for the kids,” said Tamaulipas State Police investigator Raul Gamez in Spanish. “He doesn’t know where they end up, but said they all go to excellent homes.”

Using notes found in Torres’ possession, Gamez said he tracked down nine single mothers in Rio Bravo who claimed to have sold their children to Torres, some of them repeatedly. They kept having babies because they knew the money would be waiting, he said.

“These women are very poor,” Gamez said. “Some work in maquiladoras and some of their families didn’t even know they were pregnant.”

It remains unclear whether any of the mothers will also face criminal charges.

ONGOING INVESTIGATION

FBI officials refused to comment on the investigation Wednesday but confirmed that they had met with Mexican authorities on the case.

Gamez, who turned over several notebooks and documents to agents in McAllen, said Torres likely had help in the Rio Grande Valley to carry out his purported scheme.

Since his arrest, Torres has identified Harlingen attorney Armando Escamilla as a contact who helped arrange the adoptions, Reynosa city prosecutor Oralia Mancha Barrera said.

Escamilla, who also serves as pastor of Valley Christian Assembly in San Benito, refused to answer questions about his relationship with the accused baby broker, saying only he was not a client.

“As an attorney it’s impossible for me to discuss my legal practice,” he said.

FBI officials would not confirm whether Escamilla was a target of their investigation.

Torres and his girlfriend remained in the Reynosa city jail on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

At his Harlingen home, a rolling chain-link gate blocked the driveway leading up to it. The mailbox in front of the home was filled with mail.

If convicted on child trafficking charges, the two could face up to 12 years in a Mexican prison.

_____

Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.

_____

Martha Leticia Hernandez covers general assignments for La Frontera. You can reach her at (956) 683-4846.

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