The Hutchisons:

Giving Up in Ohio


    This account is based on emails, a January 2000 telephone conversation and the Hutchison's complaint to the Ohio Department of Human Services (now the Department of Job and Family Services), filed as Agency #259, Complaint #4-57-99.  All of this took place prior to the Hutchisons’ ill-fated adoption with the Frank Foundation in Tver, Russia in March 2000.

    In January 1999 Matt and Mary Hutchison contacted BBAS about adopting a girl, preferably eight to ten–years old. Matt and Mary had a 10-year old biological daughter and wanted to add another child to their family through adoption. They felt drawn to Russia and felt they could give a stable, loving home to a child who desperately needed one.  

    Their troubles began with the homestudy process, done by  Carol Wilson of Adoption Specialists in March 1999.

  Adoption Specialists, based in Cleveland Heights, was used by BBAS in the beginning for their Ohio clients. At that time, Mrs. Wilson was working with BBAS as a “consultant,” yet when Mary asked Denise about Carol's status within BBAS, Denise said that Carol Wilson was an employee.

    Mary wrote: “I am very leery of their relationship although I don’t think Carol was happy about working with Denise. But what triggered that was Denise insist[ing] that Carol print the homestudy on BBAS letterhead . There was a lot of confusion there about the homestudy process.

   When I pointed out these to the woman at the ODHS [Linda], she noted that BBAS and Carol Wilson were under violations at the time and because of their ‘confusion’ regarding the regulations, the violations weren’t pursued any further.”

    On the telephone Mrs. Hutchison told Daniel Denise Hubbard had personally taken photographs of the Hutchison’s home for their dossier.  Mary said the  photos were awful, poorly-lit and badly framed.  Denise told them “Well, before I did adoptions, I used to do photography!”  The Hutchisons had a good laugh  after seeing Denise's poor quality of the photographs of their home after they were developed. 

    (By the way, Denise’s job application, discussed here, from the brief period when she served as BBAS’s acting director and thus included in the agency’s ODHS/ODJFS file, says nothing about her having worked in some photographic capacity).

    Even worse, when they received the completed homestudy, it was full of typographical, factual and grammatical errors. It appeared to have been written and printed out by a sixth grader, not a professionally licensed social worker. Needless to say, it was sent back to Mrs. Wilson for a rewrite.  

    When Mrs. Hutchison filed her report on BBAS to the ODHS, she found Linda Saridakis, the licensing specialist we sent our complaint to, went to BBAS’s offices personally and looked over their file, as per complaint procedure (she did the same in our case and later complaints).  

    Mrs. Saridakis didn’t find anything overtly wrong. But she reported to Mary that in their file, four dates were listed as to when she and her family supposedly went to training sessions required by ODHS of all Ohio residents using agencies licensed in that state, wherever they were adopting from.

    “My husband and I have credible documentation showing there is no possible way we could have attended training on any of those four days,” she said.I am glad that I save my shopping receipts … because they do show the date and time of when you make your purchase.” On the days that they were allegedly having these required training sessions, she was out shopping!  

    Linda Saridakis was not keen on “pursuing our complaint any further, since there were no other complaints about BBAS. However, she was insistent that I talk to another worker at the ODHS to make a complaint against Carol Wilson at Adoption Specialists … for some reason.

   At that time I did not want to do that because we were just contacting Frank, they wanted a copy of our homestudy and I wanted to comply happily because we did not want to have to hire someone else to do our homestudy. I can’t say for sure if Carol Wilson complied within the realms of homestudy regulations; however, I suspect rules were bent here and there.”

    On April 4 2000, Mrs. Hutchison informed us of the outcome of what transpired with the ODHS and Carol Wilson.  

    “I just wanted to tell you that I heard back from Linda Saridakis at the ODHS … after I sent her our stuff. Although she still could not pin anything on Building Blocks, she said they did cite Carol Wilson for failing to provide us information about AdoptOhio [the state’s program to place kids from its foster-care system in permanent families] … Providing information about AdoptOhio is a requirement of Ohio adoption agencies, from what I understand.  It’s to give adopting parents the option to adopt domestically and to better inform them about the adoption process. 

    “They weren’t able to nail anyone on the lack of training claim although we were able to provide them with viable evidence that we could not possibly have participated in any training program because we were other places. Apparently, the training issue was misunderstood by Adoption Specialists and they were warned about it previous to our complaints. Dates in our file were ‘revised’ and what is says now is anyone’s guess … As usual, our case is on file at ODHS and available to the public.”

    We would keep that in mind.

    Carol passed away a couple of years later, and Jim Wilson no longer seems to do homestudies in Ohio.  But, in 2000-2002  they were linked with BBAS on the website under “OHIO.”

     When this website was made public and posted to a popular Guatemalan adoption list, we received an email from a woman who had used Carol for her homestudy in December 1999 after another Ohio agency had dropped the ball.  In an email to us, dated June 11, 2003, she stated, "We were very pleased with the homestudy Carol Wilson did for us when we adopted our son from Guatemala.  Carol was a life saver for us.  She completed our homestudy in a few weeks (we already had our fingerprint clearances, fire inspection, reference letters, etc) and we cannot say enough good things about Carol."  This family did not use Building Blocks for their Guatemalan adoption.

     We are happy to report that Adoption Specialists did get the job done for this Ohio family in their time of need and are also happy the lady took the time out to inform us. It shows that Carol Wilson was indeed competent, and we feel the biggest problem with the Hutchisons’ homestudy was Denise Hubbard's involvement (Another family’s BBAS experience later with another social worker, and comments by Linda Saridakis during BBAS’s 2004 recertification add some substance to that theory).

    After their homestudy was completed to their satisfaction, the Hutchisons compiled the rest of their dossier and sent it to BBAS on May 2 (the same day I was meeting with Denise at her home).  Exactly two days later, on May 4, they received the referral for a 10 year old girl in the Volgograd region named Natasha.

    Upon viewing her video and reviewing her medical records, they said yes to her adoption. They told Denise to start making their arrangements to adopt her.

    After they said yes to Natasha, their adoption hit a brick wall. “We didn’t hear anything new about our case for a couple of weeks,” Mary told us. Whenever I would ask what the status was, I was usually told that our paperwork was being translated and sent to Russia and it would take a few weeks to accomplish this.”  

    Mary mentioned Michael and Jennifer King, a very happy BBAS family (their adoption experience used to be here. As of April 2002 it appears their site is  longer up) who had submitted their dossier on May 17th and had traveled to Volgograd Russia for their court date by the end of May. 

    The Kings were adopting a little special-needs boy.  I wish their website was still available.  I read their story carefully and Mr. King mentioned a few strange occurrences during their time in Volgograd.  I found his use of Denise’s happy emails to them in the beginning of their process highly amusing.  I noted they they received their referral without an approved homestudy, something that Denise had claimed to me she wasn’t doing then.

  Mary Hutchison wondered if their dossier and that of other BBAS families had been held back so Michael and Jennifer King could travel for their son ahead of them. When pressed for dates as to when their dossier was translated, sent to Russia, petition filed in the court, etc, “Denise would never give a specific date. I know a little about social work, and dates are generally recorded in case files — it’s just ethical. Apparently, no dates to that effect were recorded in our file at BBAS.”

    By July the wait for their travel date to Volgograd was becoming a burden. What was happening over there? Why couldn't they travel to bring Natasha home?  They were told by Denise when ever they asked about the court date, “any day now.”

    By mid-July Denise Hubbard slipped into her “dark side” mode on them as they began to press her for more concrete answers other than “any day now.”

    “We were initially told that the person at the Ministry of Education was replaced (we were told several different reasons: she was ill, died, retired, etc.) and that the new person was still settling in. Several more weeks passed and still no court date. Finally we received word that we would receive our court date on July 14.

    “On July 13th, we were told that we were not going to receive our court date as promised. Instead, three more delays. In the few weeks to follow, we were told that an attorney in Volgograd was to be hired to go to court to get the ball rolling again.” 

    This may have been the truth.  As had been written in one of the “BBAS Electronic Newsletters” from July 1999 that the virus ate. This was corroborated in an email with Charlene Whitwell. At that time,  Charlene was actively helping Denise with the orphanage formula drive.

    “Through the course of a few more weeks, we were told that finally … the facilitator in Volgograd, Alexi, had a court petition to take care of things other than going through the Ministry of Education. We were told that there was bribery going on, the director of Ministry of Education was reprimanded, and that our facilitator was processing paperwork.”

    Then the horrible bombshell fell, the one we all dread.

    “During the last week of August 1999, after waiting for four months, we were told that our referred little girl was not available for us to adopt after all. We told Denise at BBAS how hurt we were to find this out. For the past four months, we called that little girl our future daughter, we had a brand new bedroom with new everything ready for her, a closet full of clothes, more toys than imaginable, and a family just waiting for her to come home.

    The excuses the Hutchisons were given as to why Natasha was lost:

    “The facilitator, Alexey, went to Moscow with a court order to remove the adoptable children from the databank. Denise told me this on the same day that supposedly this trip was taking place.

   Two days later, Denise called and told us that part of the process of removing the children from the databank is where they publish in the local paper that the child is being considered for adoption. When the notice about our child was published, a ‘distant relative’ came forward, visited the child and filed for adoption. This supposedly happened all within two days time — from the time Denise told me the facilitator was going to Moscow to visit the databank until she called to tell us Natasha was not adoptable anymore.

    “Now, I’m not stupid. I just know that there is no way — in Russia — that a notice is printed in a newspaper, then a ‘distant relative’ sees the notice, goes for a visit in the orphanage, and then files for adoption. I DON’T EVEN WORK THAT FAST!!! Russians don’t move that fast.

   I have always had a sick feeling that our Natasha was not adopted by a Russian relative, but maybe adopted by another American family, or became not adoptable at all during the four months our petition to adopt Natasha sat on someone’s desk.  

    “I have often wanted to post on the listserv to find out if anyone knows of the whereabouts of Natasha. I still have her real name, DOB etc., and have always wondered what happened to her. I pray she’s in good hands. She was such an adorable child.”

    “Denise … told us that she would expedite our case to find us another referral and that it would take only a couple of weeks … that tapes were on their way to her. We waited and waited and still no word came about anything new on our case. We were told over and over that everything was at a stand still in Volgograd. I was also told at that time that Denise was trying to get new facilitators. I sensed there were conflicts going on in Russia with the facilitators.

    “She told me at one point she wanted to get rid of Dennis and find new facilitators, but I didn’t hear anything more about that.”

    At that point, Dennis Gornostaev was the only facilitator she was working with. Who all his contacts were in Russia was another matter entirely. Even having met some of them, we still don’t know their relationship. 

    In December 1999, Denise Hubbard, Dennis Gornostaev and Dennis Kaselak would part company, and BBAS would become an Amrex agency.   Mary Hutchison's guess was right on the mark.

    “After waiting several weeks for a new referral to come from Volgograd and not hearing anything new, we told Denise to move our case out of Volgograd and into another region.  We thought that if nothing was happening in Volgograd and adoptions were not being processed, we did not want to go through the same waiting that we had before earlier.  We knew that at that time, there were about 19 other families jus like us waiting for court dates … She said she would move our case to Perm and work with other facilitators. 

    Mary Hutchison was again right about Denise.  This leaps out at me even today:

    “One thing Denise was good about, and I sensed she put forth much effort to accomplish this, was to keep the other families that were in the same boat as us, waiting to travel to Volgograd at the same time, from here in Ohio … I wonder what ever happened to ‘their case.’”

    (We ourselves did more than wonder. We located one of them and got their story, yet more evidence of Denise’s underhandedness and poor people skills)

    I asked Mary if Denise had offered to switch them to Bulgaria, something she offered other Russian clients involved in the Volgograd slow down. Mary wrote “Yes, she did offer us the switch to Bulgaria, but I didn’t know anything about the country, I didn’t like the idea of traveling twice, switching all the paperwork … Denise did tell me that we would finalize everything quickly … we too were told that a Bulgarian adoption would happen quickly, just in about the time it would take to make the two trips, about six weeks.  

    She went on, “If she did move our case to Perm, we will never know because we never did receive any referrals from there. There wasn’t even any news about children they suspected would be possible referrals. After several more weeks of waiting for a referral from Perm and not hearing anything new about our case, we told Denise that we could not pursue an adoption through her agency any longer. 

    “I sense the reason why we never got a referral from Perm,” Mary continued, “was that Dennis and Alexey had already received our money and those refunds were not transferable in the Perm region. I suspect Dennis held much of the control of the adoptions and other dealings aboard and Denise had no control whatsoever when it came to happenings in … Volgograd.”

    The Hutchisons spoke with Dennis Gornostaev only once, a conference call Wendy Stamper had insisted they take. Gornostaev was short with them and unreasonably so.  

    Said Mary, “I had a feeling that this was a man that was in the business solely for a living.  However, we were too far into getting our court date at the time to blow him off, and I realized this guy held the strings to our adoption.”

    When no other referrals were presented to them, from either Volgograd or Perm, they told Denise they could no longer pursue an adoption from Russia with Building Blocks.  They asked for their dossier back and received it in December 1999 after further haggling with the agency.  

    Along with their dossier, they requested copies of their case file from BBAS.  Denise snidely informed them all they were entitled to was getting their dossier returned. This was not entirely true, they thought, but they didn’t want to “push it.”  

    And then Mary wrote, “Beware of their contract!” 

    They had signed the same contract Daniel and I had signed in March 1999 — not the one BBAS clients now sign. 

    “Ours said that there was a refundable fee here and there. However, when we requested the refund, we were told that the contract said we weren’t entitled to the refund.  She’s correct in a way … in one place it says it’s refundable, in another paragraph it states that it isn’t.  There’s a contradiction in their contract.  

   We were entitled only $750 (half of one fee). It’s not worth my time and my attorney’s time to pursue that refund … but so far I have chosen to avoid a non-disclosure agreement for a possible refund of the $750 … I won’t be able to recoup the time and the money (about $8,000) that we lost doing business with Building Blocks Adoption.”

    That has held true to this day, where their improved current contract basically says nothing is refundable (some fees are, but there are pretty large loopholes allowing BBAS to declare the fees non-refundable).

   We asked Mary how she was treated by Denise after they lost Natasha's referral. What Mary told us was what we have come to call the “bend over and take it” side of Denise, the side shown to us for the rest of our working relationship with her and her agency, as well as several other clients who have followed us.

    “I will tell you that it is my opinion that Denise is very polite, friendly and cooperative when things are going well. But as soon as your case isn’t going well, she becomes very cold, inconsiderate and unfriendly. Towards the end, when we lost our referral, she became very inconsiderate as if she didn’t care if we found another child or not.”

    And then one thing that has remained a constant with Denise Hubbard to this day — something she bamboozles clients with: “Denise was really good at telling you not to worry about things. Trouble is, we probably should have worried a little more, inquired a little more, and not settled for ‘I’ll get back to you about that in a couple of days.’

    “Denise always made it sound like we were the only ones having a problem coping with the delays, that we were the only ones that were causing trouble for her by calling once a week and asking if she heard anything new. She acted like we were the ‘problem case.’ We never gave it a second thought that there were others in similar boats like us.”  

   That is how good Denise used to be at keeping her clients silent. No longer.

    When Mary shared this with us, we were slowing formulating our plan of information overload on the Internet. And Mary’s treatment was sounding hauntingly familiar to us.

    Mary then helped to erase any illusion we ever might have had that Denise would keep our information about Cyril and our circumstances confidential: 

    “I … know from other parties that she has discussed untrue information to others outside of her agency. Privacy obviously isn’t one of her policies because I have had total strangers tell me they have discussed our case with her and they proved it by telling me information about our case that only we should know.”  

     The person she had discussed their case with was none other than Christine Belges, Denise Hubbard's “sock puppet

    How were we to trust Denise in 2000 to keep her mouth shut about what happened to us in Russia, and not to trash us behind our backs?  If Denise was talking trash about the Hutchisons’ case, what the hell might she saying about us at this time?  

    Mary was adament about one thing: “If Denise is going to continue to operate, then she needs to do so within some means. It seems as if, according to stories like yours and mine, that ‘anything goes’ as long as the adoption is completed. 

   That’s not right, because bad things happen when there is no control over the outcomes … she definitely bit off more than she could chew. That’s her problem.  

   However, she also lacks a number of other things like professionalism, business ethics, long-established relationships in Russia, etc.  

   In a weird way I feel sorry for her, and only because I really think that Dennis Gorontsaev has a strong hold on the adoption progressions and she was roped into that hold. 

   BUT her attitude stinks. I have caught her in lies, and she has no business discussing my case with strangers ... and no, she’s not good at lying, that’s for sure. I have everything in writing with documented proof to back the lies ready to send to Ms. Saridakis.”

    This was a lot to take in, but the patterns were there. Denise had been very good at repressing them while stroking our egos with her lies and faux care about us in the beginning.

    As for the Hutchisons, the last email contact we had with them was right after we brought Anguel home from Bulgaria.

    In March 2000 they traveled to adopt two young children from Tver' with the Frank Foundation and had a horrible experience at the hands of one of Franks’ Tver facilitators.   They came home empty handed from Russia, with no children.

    To us, the Hutchisons’ experience with attempting to adopt from Russia is one of the worst I have ever heard. They had not only suffered at the hands of Denise Hubbard, but the greed and the incompetence of one of the Frank Foundations facilitators.  

    To our knowledge, they are through with Russian adoption. And that is sad.

    Mrs. Hutchison did agree with one thing: that more media attention should be focused on how agencies treat us clients and the rotten things we and our children have gone through to be united.  The real story, she said, wasn’t the “shocking” medical and mental conditions of the children we were bringing home, but of our treatment and the greed at the hands of our fellow citizens running these so-called “agencies.” 

    In the late summer of 2001, we were to receive Linda Saridakis’s report on the Hutchison’s case through a public-records request filed by Mary Mooney.

    It was revealing. One of the Hutchisons’ main complaints to Ms. Saridakis had been that neither Carol Wilson nor Denise Hubbard had interviewed their 10-year-old daughter during the course of three house visits by both Denise Hubbard and Carol Wilson in March of 1999.  Mary maintained there was a lack of real and specific training her family was to have received from Mrs. Wilson.  Wasn’t it state law in Ohio to receive this training?

    As we read through the report, something struck us: Denise Hubbard lied to her about one key point in responding to the Hutchison’s complaint. Mary and her family decided to split with BBAS when they did not procure another referral for an older child from either Volgograd or Perm.  She stated that very clearly in her emails to us. 

    But in their meeting on Dec. 16, 1999, Linda Sarikdakis reported: “Ms. Hubbard explained to this specialist that the complainant was offered a nine-year old female child, whose Russian family decided to take [her] back.   [The Hutchisons] were then offered two other female children, ages five and seven and refused these children, not even viewing their videos … according to Ms. Hubbard.

    A complete and utter lie.  The Hutchisons left BBAS because they were never offered any other referrals and had kept getting stonewalled and lied to by both Denise and Dennis Gornostaev! For Denise Hubbard to lie to her own state licensing specialist is truly low and conniving, but it would not be the last time.  

    She was able to get away with it because she was not required to keep records indicating when referrals had been made and whether they had been accepted or not. She would use the same loophole to fudge information and acquit herself in her response to our complaint.

    Unfortunately, as you all know by now, Denise had not violated any state law.

    All Linda Saridakis could do was cite Denise for not having a current job description on file for Carol Wilson, a technical violation. Denise agreed, in a Dec. 21 letter to Saridakis, to place the current job description in the personnel file and to develop a checklist to be placed in each personnel file and that “the International Director will be responsible for the files.”

    The final paragraph of Ms. Saridakis report read thus: “… Many of the issues in the complaint are one person’s word and documentation against the other and could not be verified.  This complaint is closed and will be opened as a new complaint if any other issues arise regarding Building Blocks Adoption Services.”

    To date, June 2003, six complaints are on file at the ODHS: ours, the Hutchisons’ (which were separated into two), the Badys’, the Towells’ and the Ponishes. We do not know if this has led to any further reexamination of the Hutchisons’ complaint, although we did inform Linda that Denise’s statement about them having received two other referrals is in direct contradiction with the Hutchisons’ account on a material issue.

    As for the Hutchison family, after two horrible experiences with Russian adoption, they have moved on putting this experience behind them.  They no longer care to discuss the issue with anyone. Even us.

    We really can’t say we blame them.

   Behind this whole thing is the real shame on Denise: because her behavior contributed to the Hutchisons’ decision to forego an adoption they were willing to do, there is at least one child somewhere that won’t have a happy home and loving family.

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