by Max Brantley
Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce today ordered the former owners of Adoption Advantage, a defunct adoptioni agency, to pay $1.2 million in restitution to defrauded potential parents and penalties and ordered them to conduct no business in Arkansas.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who filed a consumer fraud case against the agency in 2010, announced the decision, which follows an April jury verdict. The jury found the agency had made false promises about child placement and raked in thousands in upfront fees from people who never adopted children.
“Many Arkansas families who earnestly wished to adopt were left with despair and heartbreak after dealing with the defendants,” McDaniel said in a news release. “Some consumers gave their life savings to this company to adopt a child. Instead, these callous individuals stole their hopes, dreams and their money.”
A Pulaski County jury in April unanimously found that former owner Donna Hight and former Adoption Advantage employee Jacklyn Potter had violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Previously, the court had entered a default judgment against former owner Ed Webb and Adoption Advantage.
In his order issued today, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce described the defendants’ actions as “simply horrific.” He added that “words cannot adequately describe the despicable conduct,” of the defendants.
Pierce ordered the defendants to pay a total of $850,749 in restitution to affected consumers. He assessed civil penalties of $370,000 to Adoption Advantage, Webb and Hight for 37 violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Potter was ordered to pay $2,000 in civil penalties.
The State was awarded $33,577 in fees and costs.
The order permanently prohibits the defendants from operating an adoption service in or from Arkansas regardless of the location of the prospective parents. It also prohibits the defendants from offering to facilitate adoptions for Arkansas residents even if the defendants choose to operate from outside Arkansas.