Building the Blocks
On Dec. 30, 1997, ODHS licensing specialist Linda Saridakis wrote later, she was contacted on the telephone by a Denise L. Hubbard who was “expressing her interest in becoming certified as a foreign adoption agency.”
Denise said she was “Adoption Facilitator, Office Manager and Board President” of Building Blocks Adoption Service Inc. She informed Ms. Saridakis that she was “presently facilitating foreign adoptions” and working closely with an attorney and a social worker.
The other woman, Kimberly Piccolo, was listed as BBAS’s “Administrator and Office Manager.” It appears that she and Denise Hubbard met while working at Medina General Hospital in 1995.
Kim’s duties at the hospital were listed on her BBAS job application as entering lab tests into the computer system, and helping nurses to run errands.
Another greatly-qualified person to help run an adoption agency (although she had what Denise had never managed to get — a college degree).
At one time Kim and her husband Michael had resided on the Hubbards’ street. Denise needed Kim because Kim had received a B.A. in Business Administration from Texas A & M University in 1986.
The Piccolos, both Kim and Michael, would leave for better employment opportunities in 1999, leaving BBAS behind.
During this initial telephone conversation, nearly two weeks after BBAS had been incorporated by Richard J. Marco Jr. as an Ohio non-profit, Denise told Linda that she would like to open an adoption agency for placing children from Russia and Ukraine. She said she was currently facilitating adoptions, had a “private not-for-profit agency,” an attorney, and a social worker.
Linda sent Denise an “Appendix A” to begin BBAS’s certification process. On Jan. 7, Denise called Linda to say had received Appendix A and had questions about which chapters should be focused on.
Denise also inquired about the procedure for being licensed and having a Licensing Specialist assigned to BBAS. Linda told Denise to review Chapters 2-5 regarding the agency requirements and to focus on the application process, policies and the personnel procedures.
BBAS, as with all foreign adoption agencies, would be considered a PNA, or Private Non-Custodial Agency, by ODHS. It would not be permitted to take any children under its own care and would have to limit its activities to referring available children to parents interested in adopting them, which was all they planned to do anyway.
As such, most of the state regulations were geared towards protecting the interest of any children who might be placed and not really applicable to BBAS. Even much of what standards they did have to meet seem somewhat irrelevant to the business model of a foreign adoption agency.
None of these standards, however, took into account protecting the interests of adoptive parents as consumers of adoption services. It was assumed that existing laws would be sufficient to deal with that.
On Jan. 29, Denise left Linda a voicemail stating that she had spoken with Sheralyn Graise, Linda’s supervisor. Denise told Linda that “she was just facilitating adoptions, but is being accused of other things.”
It took us some time to find out, again purely by a lucky strike through searching The Wayback Machine, to find out just what, exactly, those “other things” were.
What we found was the bulletin board from Mary Mooney’s website in its earliest days, back in 1997.
On Oct. 29 of that year, Denise herself posted this glowing recommendation of Building Blocks, under her own name:
I highly recommend this agency, the facilitator is fantastic. She is honest, personal and very low cost. She is doing adoptions from here heart and not her pocketbook. The main reason she does adoptions is because of the children. This service is very knowledgeable and precise in their work. The staff at Building Blocks is a Christian staff and stays in contact with the families from beginning to end. If you would like more info call me at 330-725-5521.
This stinks in so many ways.
It’s not so much that the way she actually ran BBAS gave the lie to every single statement in this paragraph save the phone number (which is the same even today). It’s not that she was failing to disclose that it was her own agency she was touting.
Most to the point, BBAS was neither licensed or even incorporated at that point in time. It would be another two months until the latter was true, and five more after that until she got her license.
Denise’s own daughter Emily was most decidedly not home yet. She had absolutely no business offering adoption services to anyone.
And, by the way, hadn’t it been barely a month since she uttered her last sky-high praise of Simona Wirtz, her nominal boss? Was she plotting to undermine Simona? If so, for how long had she been doing so?
This may have been what Caral McDonald, another ODHS licensing specialist who, as we saw in the last chapter, aroused Denise’s ire by questioning Simona Wirtz’s credentials, read that led her to direct similar attention to Denise.
Denise complained that “Caral ... was using things from my ‘personal file’ on the Internet.” Curious indeed.
Ms. Macdonald may well have been. But read what she told Mary Mooney:
I will not compromise my duties and obligations to investigate complaints nor stifle the free exchange of inquiry that is essential to protecting the adoption process in Ohio. In the process of seeking the truth, it becomes possible to put fragmented information into a global picture and, in turn, serve and protect both our families and our agencies.
Consider this site that “global picture.” Ms. McDonald’s doggedness may, we suspect, have cost her her job (she also, as reported in Cleveland magazine in 1998, dared face down Margaret Cole and EAC, which was probably the kicker due to the former’s high-level political connections), but she seems to have been ahead of the curve as far as what was going on and who was suffering. If you’re reading this, Caral, we’d love to hear from you.
Back to Denise, who appeared to be miffed at herself for making errors on BBAS’s initial application forms (this would cause a delay in getting the certification). Linda was sending the forms back to Denise for corrections.
Receiving the ODHS certification was not going to be the simple, quick process that Denise L. Harding-Hubbard had banked on.
The next day, Jan. 30, Linda returned Denise’s call. Denise told her that she had spoken to Sheralyn Graise with respect to getting the application corrected. Linda explained what information she would need regarding Denise having subcontracted with Carol Wilson of Adoption Specialists, Inc., for doing homestudies in Ohio.
Denise then changed the subject from her application to discussion of “the gossip on the Internet,” possibly Caral’s response to Denise’s self-promotion as reproduced above. What, specifically, Denise was referring to we have not yet been able to dredge up.
Linda wrote: “[Denise] requested some ORC code from Sheralyn Graise regarding [a] Licensing Specialist posting information ‘what we think’ on the Internet.” Denise told Linda that she “feels condemned” and that Caral McDonald had “posted what she felt on the Internet.”
Linda stated to Denise that Caral had posted “only factual information that BBAS was not a licensed agency” and didn’t see Denise’s point about Caral’s posting (if it was indeed Caral that had posted anything, as Denise claimed).
Denise told Linda that she, Sheralyn Graise and Caral McDonald held a three-way telephone conversation the day before and Linda told Denise she was aware of the conversation. It is unclear from this document what they discussed.
But it is clear that, even before her agency was cleared to operate, she had started her practice of slyly impugning her critics (take note ... this will be continued later in this chapter).
Denise clearly, unambiguously stated that she was not advertising or soliciting on the Internet.
But, as usual, she was lying through her teeth. We found the following posts on parentsplace’s archived international adoption forums from 1997.
These posts were clearly made by a “dhubb” who was using Denise’s then-current email address – email@example.com, the same one attached to her post to Mary Mooney’s site – around the same time as the post above that aroused Caral McDonald so.
She learned from the experience not to use the name she planned to go into business under, and be a bit more circumspect in her phrasing.
Date: Sunday, October 26, 1997
Keywords: international adoption; children with disabilities; infertility
Give me your email address and I will be happy to assist you with your Russian adoption in anyway that I can.
She would get ever more devious. The mysterious SO113@aol.com, whom we would encounter later, popped up on Mary Mooney’s website
On Nov. 18, 1997 (again before Building Blocks was either licensed or incorporated), this person had posted glowing praise of BBAS, again to the bulletin board on Mary Mooney’s website that we only found through archive.org:
I just wanted to let people know of this wonderful adoption service that we used to adopt our son. We used Building Blocks Adoption Services (330-725-5521) They are a very personal, professional service. We had consistent contact with them and the facilitator is wonderful. She was always available to answer any questions and kept us up to date on every part of our adoption. I searched for many adoption agencies and I found this one to be the best. A small fee was required up front, but no other fees were paid until they identified Josh. The cost of the adoption was alot lower than other agencies that I spoke with. My wife and I would highly recommend Building Blocks to Build your family through adoption. This service was just to good to be true and I am glad that I followed my instincts, we would do it again and probably will! They only care about one thing, THE KIDS!!! That sold me! Craig
Just who is “Craig”? The spelling errors, casualness with punctuation and cheap-cologne sales rhetoric point a big finger at Denise ... but then why would she later have cc'ed an email she sent to us to this person? Perhaps she was using someone else’s computer or account ... another client of Simona’s?
In any case, this is the most egregious of these covert attempts to get around the inconvenience of not having a license or certificate of incorporation, the state of Ohio’s ridiculously bureaucratic impediments to an entrepreneur’s right to make money. It’s highly doubtful that BBAS had completed an adoption by this point. If she had, she was breaking a lot of laws; if she hadn’t, this was pure and simple false advertising.
On Nov. 21, under the heading “International Adoptions is a Wonderful life Experience,” keyword “Love of Children,” dhubb posted the following, heart-wrenching message (clearly, it almost sounds like she is advertising, and keep in mind, they were traveling soon to adopt Emily):
International adoption is a wonderful life experience, what a journey, you only live once, and God has blessed us prospective adoptive parents with an option to raise his children!!! If you are thinging of adopting internationally, I would like to help in anyway possible for you to do so, so if you need help or advise do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have found that going through the adoption process has been a great life journey for us. We also found out that all the bad stories from News shows etcc.. are not all true, there are healthy loving children waiting for us to come and provide them with homes. Good luck to all on your adoptin jouney and may God Bless all of you. Isn't this a great Thanksgiving gift, we ought to be thankful for these children. Children are the reason!!!
Eight days later, under the heading: EMILY IS COMING HOME! WE LEAVE FOR RUSSIA ON FRI DEC 5th, this same dhubb posted the following, thrilled sounding post:
We leave on Dec. 5th and have a court date on Dec. 8th, we hope to return on the 12th of Dec. with our new addition to our family!!!
One month later, on the same, exact day that Denise called Linda Saridakis for the first time to start BBAS certification process in Ohio, the following was posted to the parentsplace international adoption bulletin board:
Happy New Year to All Prospective and Adoptive Parents!!!
Date: Tuesday, December 30, 1997
Life is good!! Emily is doing great, and God is Great!!! I hope everyone has the great experience we had overseas. What great people they are!!! Good luck to all in your adoption journey!! email@example.com
As far as we have been able to determine, BBAS itself was not mentioned again on Usenet or other Internet forums regarding adoption until July 1998, two months after she would receive certification.
While these posts certainly comply with the letter of the law, in that she is not offering any specific services to people nor mentioning her agency, it’s hard to not also conclude that she was hoping to land clients and have them ready to go when the certification (which, at this point, she seems to have believed was a quick and relatively painless process) came.
Linda reminded Denise that advertising BBAS’s adoption services was not permitted anywhere until she had certification, and Denise concurred. Denise stated that she was aware of the laws and that her attorney was reviewing them. Denise then repeatedly said she would only be placing children from Russia and Ukraine.
Denise said she was aware that she could facilitate but not actually do adoptions. She again told Linda that she was subcontracting with Adoption Specialists for homestudies.
Linda told her that she could not do this until she was licensed. Denise then came up with a story that finally worked. “What I meant,” she said, “is that I refer people to Adoption Specialists.”
What she really meant, of course, was she had screwed up and gotten ahead of the process in her desperation to start making money from clients. For all we know, she was processing these adoptions on the sly by then anyway.
The conversation turned to the Hubbard’s adoption process for Emily. Denise hit Linda with the odd statement: “I am being slandered by the previous owner of Sarah’s Hope.” Denise went on to state, “I am being shafted by Sarah’s Hope and Simona.”
Then, Denise told Linda that she had created Sarah’s Hope’s webpage (again, currently lost ... but, according to Simona, she didn’t), and then made the curious statement: “Simona’s name is not used in our home.”
What a 180-degree turnaround! Barely three months earlier, Denise sang Simona’s praises calling her a good Christian woman who cared about children, and was doing adoptions for a minimal fee. How had Simona gone from “getting shafted” to her “shafting” Denise? As far as we or Simona could tell, her offense seems to have been presuming to be owed some thanks for the difficult job she did in making Emily’s adoption possible, and being Denise’s boss when Denise wanted to do it all herself.
When this conversation occurred, Linda told Denise she had sent her clarification on to Columbus with the questions Denise had about Appendix A.
In a Feb. 3 telephone conversation, Denise again stated BBAS’s purpose. She told Linda that she was “a facilitator.”
BBAS was to “be a facilitator, contracting to do homestudies in Ohio and other states, in accord with their state laws.” Denise wanted to “provide seminars regarding the child[ren], complete paperwork for Russian facilitators [and for translations for families].” BBAS would be responsible for sending out videos and medicals of children available for adoption to clients.
The conversation continued, with a discussion of what BBAS could and couldn’t do as a private non-custodial agency in Ohio, one that only wished to do the last of the four things the state regs allow PNAs to do: “participate in the placing of children for adoption.” Post-placement services, pre-placement services and post-finalization topics were discussed as well as who registers homestudies with the state FACSIS process.
Laws requiring BBAS staff members were discussed. Linda noted: “She should include contract agency/staff who will be completing items required by the assessor.”
Adopt-Ohio was discussed, Rule 5101:2-5-13 and the policies required for an adoption agency and other additional documentation that would be requested from BBAS in order to complete certification.
The next topic they discussed was pivotal: BBAS finances.
funding, Denise said that she would only be asking $1,000 per adoption
and claimed the $1,000 would be her only method of funding.
From this $1,000 “the Director, herself, the Attorney and
administrative costs” would be covered.” AND: “She does not feel that they can stick to a
The budget rule covering financing is Rule 2-5-08. It specifies that the budget shall ensure funding to provide the services relevant to all certified function and detail anticipated income and expenditures.
Since its inception, has BBAS indeed followed this rule and maintained clear records of income and expenditures?
We’re still not sure.
At this time, Linda
was concerned about BBAS having a deficit. That would quickly change.
Linda and Denise had a telephone conversation on Feb. 5 to clarify the information she had just submitted to the ODHS. Denise had made mistakes on a few pages of her application (again), and had wanted to know if she should include her Russian facilitators in her application for certification materials as “agency staff.”
Linda asked Denise if the Russian facilitators were contracting with BBAS
or if BBAS was paying them directly. Denise
told her that there was no “contract agreement” between the Russian
facilitators and BBAS and that the adoptive parents would pay the Russian
facilitators, Denise meant Dennis J. Kaselak and Dennis
Linda told her not to include them as agency staff, not knowing who specifically she was referring to. Therefore, as far as the state knew, Dennis J. Kaselak and Dennis Gornostaev were never associated with Building Blocks Adoption Service, Inc.
This was more
important than perhaps Linda could have known at the time. As the last chapter
shows, had Denise had to admit to their involvement it could have been the end
for BBAS right then and there.
Denise finally clarified her budget. The budget was based on three (3) adoptions per month, with the aforementioned fee of $1,000 per adoption.
The $1,000 would be split this way: $200 for “the Director,” $200 for Denise Hubbard and $200 for the social worker.
That adds up to $600. The
remaining $400 was not accounted for.
Linda told Denise
that she did not see “an administrative fee for the Director or
Administrator.” Denise said that she thought it was there in the documentation
that she had sent over (an excuse she would later use on us, as well as other
She told Denise to
review her copy and if it wasn’t there, there had to be a section for that
expense. Was that where the remaining $400 was to go?
Denise told Linda
that “once the agency is financially stable” the fees would change.
And by 2002, how they would change! The phrase “and up” comes to mind.
There were no air
travel or hotel expenses contained in this budget. Denise claimed that she wouldn’t be traveling at the present time, but
perhaps in the future.
This notation of Linda’s raised our eyebrows. “I requested clarification of the $945.67 surplus each month and why that was not carried to the next month.”
And what did Denise promise to do with this monthly surplus of $945.67?
Why – “any surplus would be put into a fund to send supplies overseas
to the orphanages.” Linda stated to
Denise “the budget should…reflect this as it appears that each month
[there] is a surplus of money that is not accounted for.”
BBAS’s “Humanitarian Aid Agency” ICCF, Inc., would be incorporated June 23, 2000. Between February 1998 and then, what had happened to that monthly surplus?
By June 2000 any surplus would be above $945.67.
That would have been a nice hunk of change going towards Vladivostok,
Orenburg, Krasnodar, Kurjali, Burgas, Buzovgrad and lastly, Perm. Especially Dom
Rebyonka No. 2.
On Feb. 6, 1998, Linda had a conversation with her superiors about FACSIS and if the wording contained within BBAS’s application was acceptable regarding approving or accepting adoptive homestudies.
It was acceptable, and Linda wrote a letter to Denise that day stating as
winter vacation, Denise being out of town and general telephone tag, a date was
arranged for Linda to go and meet with Denise to go over the BBAS application at
long last. The meeting was to take place at the Hubbards’ residence where
Denise would be running BBAS’s offices.
The policies and documents that Denise had to complete were again discussed. They went over the application, which was incomplete and did not contain certain pertinent dates and signatures.
Linda made written corrections for Denise to follow on the copies.
She attempted to clarify for Denise “that even though she was going to
be working with foreign adoptions only, she still must comply with all rule and
policy requirements for adoption.”
discussed – again. Linda told Denise “after the [homestudy] agency completes
the homestudy that they would close it out in FACSIS and she would open up the
homestudy in FACSIS under her agency name.”
Denise was informed
that she would need copies of high school and college degrees from those who
were going to be the Director and Administrator of BBAS, BBAS employment
application, three reference letters, verification of five years’ residency and
clearance for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCII)
which entailed the applicant to be fingerprinted.
They ran out of
time and a second meeting was arranged for March 9.
Linda spoke to
Denise on March 5. Denise was pressuring her about the documents she had
submitted and whether Linda had had time to review them.
Denise claimed she
corrected the items they had discussed and said she had all the areas completed.
Linda told her that she had been “out in the field” and had not had time to
review all of BBAS certification documents.
At the March 9 meeting they reviewed the documents Denise had submitted. Linda described the meeting as a “site visit to home/office of Denise Hubbard.”
She reviewed the revised policies and personnel information that Denise
had submitted and recommended more corrections. However,
she told Denise that she would have to meet with the Director of BBAS “before
certification review personnel files and have all policies and documents
complete and correct along with application.”
Because Denise Hubbard only had a high school diploma, under the law she could not serve as BBAS’s director.
Instead, the title of Director fell on Kimberly Piccolo, co-trustee of
Building Blocks Adoption Service who did have a college degree.
This would cause
some problems for Denise in the months to follow.
The back and forth about reviewing the policies, information and personnel files went on between Denise, Linda Saridakis and Linda’s superiors.
By March 19, Denise was frantic. Her
criminal background check by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation
had not cleared and she was still working on the personnel files. Time was beginning to be an issue for her.
Linda wrote: “I
told Ms. Hubbard that I could not give her a timeframe.
I must complete the report and then it must go through a number of levels
in Columbus for approval and signature.”
In other words, there was no set timeframe for the process. Gee! Funny how that seems to bother Denise a lot when she’s on the receiving end!
Denise was in a rush to get the ODHS certification nonetheless, so she told Linda Saridakis the following story.
she was at “an adoption support group meeting and there was a new adoption
agency applicant who’s Specialist said she would be licensed in months.” Excuse
for not believing this one bit.
Denise claimed that the adoption agency applicant had told her she could just copy the rules and put her name on the policies.
Linda told her this was an incorrect claim. The policies had to be
individualized to each agency.
Another “on-site visit to the offices of Building Blocks” took place on March 24 with both Kim Piccolo and Denise. Linda reviewed the final policy revisions, personnel files and the other documents she had requested of Denise.
But “a few more minor revisions” were needed, and were completed
on-site. Kim Piccolo claimed she was
aware of her responsibilities as Administrator, and Denise claimed she was aware
of her responsibilities as Owner and Board President. “Both know they are required to maintain compliance with all applicable
standards,” Linda wrote.
Lastly, they were
waiting for Kimberly Piccolo’s and
Denise Hubbard’s BCII clearance. The
local sheriff’s department (her husband’s employer) had taken both women’s
prints, but had placed them on incorrect cards, and therefore, their prints had
to be redone and resubmitted. Yet
another delay for BBAS getting up and running.
Again Denise pressed Linda about the date they would receive BBAS’s certification once their BCII was completed. And again Linda told them that she could not determine when the certification would arrive for it would be dependent upon her schedule and then submitted to Columbus for signature.
In other words: be patient and stop hounding me.
The second set of
Denise and Kim’s BCII fingerprints hadn’t cleared by April. This time, the sheriff’s department had lost their second set of cards!
Denise claimed that BCII had put “a rush” on them in order for them to get
Denise was under duress. She needed that certification. She told Linda that she had “three families awaiting her license” and that “Russia” was aware that she was “in process” of obtaining it.
(However, around the same time she told the Medina Gazette that she had 21 families signed up to adopt. That’s a pretty big discrepancy!)
And as you know, Denise could not get one referral from “Russia”
(i.e. Dennis Gornostaev) without BBAS’s certification.
If she didn’t receive referrals for her waiting families, she and
Dennis Gornostaev could kiss those clients and their cash goodbye.
Denise again queried Linda (one can only wonder if she didn’t hear Linda the last time she told her) how long it would be before she would receive certification after the fingerprint cards were submitted and requested a telephone call from Linda once the cards were submitted to Columbus.
Again Linda told
her “I don’t know how long.” She said that she would telephone her when it
Denise pressed her
on whether she had completed her report, and Linda told her she had not “due to other
outstanding issues and reports” that she was working on.
At long last, on
April 23 Linda received the criminal background check from Denise.
On April 30, Denise
emailed Linda the four following questions:
Can I use a licensed assessor social worker-subcontractor for my homestudies and use my license when I get it, for her to work under?
Did you get my license request finished and down to Columbus
Do you know if they will issue my license before the changes on May 1?
Will you show or tell me how to go about making the necessary changes to my policies when they need to be changed?
And then this P.S. to these pesky questions:
P.S. the negative postings that were on the Internet about me are gone. We found out it was Simona! Can you believe it! Why do people do things like that?
What proof did Denise have that Simona Wirtz had ever placed anything about her “on the Internet” or anywhere else? (Simona herself has no idea what Denise was talking about) How quick Denise had been to judge Caral McDonald! Not that she would, like, apologize to her or anything.
One thing was sure, though: Denise had enemies even before she had placed
one child in her capacity as “Executive Director/Owner” of BBAS.
Linda responded to the above email and basically told her that she was working on their license material every chance she had.
to work on your study on May 4 and submit with a license date of May 1, 1998.
I cannot guarantee this will be the effective date or on what day you
will actually receive a copy of your license.” She answered Denise’s questions and did not bother responding to
Denise’s self-serving rant about Simona.
emailed her back still whining about her license. “I understand, what you are
saying about your time. When will I
be able to say I am licensed? Will
their be an actual effective date, prior to my receiving a copy of the license?
How long approx. will it take for Columbus to review my file and issue a
license? If they review it and
approve it, can I say I am licensed even though I do not have the paper in
You can feel the desperate panic in her inane response. She was chewing at the bit to get that certification NOW. Which one of those three (if it was, indeed, really that few) clients was about to walk to another agency because they hadn’t received a referral yet?
She comes across like some desperate teenager: “Can I borrow the car Mom? Can I? Can I please?"
But Denise needn’t have whined and cried. Linda Saridakis and Columbus pulled through for her. BBAS received its certification in mid-May with a date on it of May 1, 1998 – May 1, 2000.
BBAS placed its first children, from Volgograd and Vladivostok, with waiting families in July 1998 (really short time frame from their license, interestingly). A baby girl was placed from Dom Rebyonok #2 in Sept 1998.
BBAS Files home