Early 2001: Russia, Amrex, BBAS And Happy Clients
“I’ve had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks ...
I’m looking for a partner, someone who gets things fixed;
Ask yourself this question, do you want to be rich? ...
You can see I’m single-minded; I know what I could be.
How’d you feel about it, come and take a walk with me;
I’m looking for a partner regardless of expense.
Think about it seriously; you know it makes sense ...
make lots of money.”
-The Pet Shop Boys
Amidst all this, we nonetheless continued to keep track of BBAS’s Russian program. From the beginning, when
we learned of Denise’s “hook up” with the Amrex facilitation service of
Alpharetta, Ga., in December 1999, we thought it a dubious relationship.
When we began Cyril’s adoption, Amrex wasn’t in the picture, because his
adoption had been undertaken using Dennis Goronstaev and Dennis
We do know for a fact that Denise was angling to hook up with Amrex as far back
as August 1999 when things were heading south for them in Volgograd as lost
referrals and angry clients piled up.
Some evidence exists to support this.
On Oct. 1, 1999 there was a curious post by a “Connie” on Dr. Downing’s site inquiring about Amrex.
asked: “Any info on AMREX anyone can give would be great. I need
to know if they are good? Honest? Get the job done? Are the kids healthy? Are
they expensive? Please negative and Postive!”
Her email address was familiar to me: email@example.com. During Anguel's adoption I had emailed a “Christine Belges” with the same email address.
Christine said she was a BBAS Bulgaria client. We met up on the adoption.com boards where she and Lori Homeyer were singing the praises of Bulgarian adoptions and BBAS.
Ms. Belges never revealed which orphanage her child was in and her responses to my questions were vague and airy. She claimed she had also adopted a daughter from Russia and she found the Bulgarian children healthier.
In one of the oddest emails I received from her, in September-October 1999 she
told me that her husband worked for a branch of the government that she
couldn’t name (he was called away to work suddenly and all over the world) and
that Denise was so good at keeping her “confidentiality.”
We may not have thought anything of this exchange, but when we reviewed the file on the ODHS complaint made by Mary Hutchison, there was a startling email Mary shared with Linda Saridakis as proof Denise was spreading her information to other clients.
This “Chrissy” appears to have contacted
Mary from her post on the now gone EEAC agency registry site in December 1999.
Mary had written: “Contract Terminated — Contact for Details” under “Building
Blocks Adoption Services.”
From: Matt Hutchison
To: “Christine Belges” firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: Building Blocks Adoption
Date: Fri, 24 Dec 1999 11:53:00-0500
No, unless you knew all of the details of our case, you could not possibly understand. I simply replied to your initial message to let you know that I didn’t want to mislead you about a reference I left on a website. I gave a very brief synopsis of what happened to us. There are many more details, of which I do not wish to go into with you, and in order to understand those circumstances, you would not be able to make an informed conclusion about our experience.
I never denied that we did not receive back our dossier, and yes, it was translated. We paid for that service! However, I have not received back anything else that I requested. I do know that there is a parcel at the post office waiting for us to pick up today. I hope that it may contain the items we requested from our BB file.
I do not wish ill will of anyone. I am not spiteful or sad, as you imply. I just wish that other people know of our plight so as not to go into an international adoption without knowing the full risks as we experienced. I am very happy that we have decided to sign with an another agency and that we are bringing home two children in stead of just one.
Mary Morris Hutchison
Had Denise trolled Mary, Amrex and me from that hotmail address? In both December 2000 and November 2001 I sent an email to that address. It bounced as undeliverable.
It’s strange Denise would still ask about Amrex at that time — according to her own board minutes, Amrex was already a done deal by late September. Denise leapt before she looked. Is anybody surprised?
The reference Mary makes in her email to being “spiteful and sad” being
implied by “Chrissy” is suspect. Those are classic Hubbard-isms.
Then there’s Amrex itself. In 2002, one of its own operatives would similarly try to troll us, though under her own name. By 2006, the organization itself would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, leaving BBAS and other agencies out thousands of dollars.
In 2001, Amrex described itself on its website under General Information as a “unique alliance of adoption agencies who have developed special procedures that allow them to work together using the same resources abroad.” (However, Amrex itself was a separate, for-profit entity, distinct from any of its “member” agencies. It was a non-profit in the past, but reverted back to being a for-profit in 2002).
Working together, the “agencies are reducing competition and, consequently, the cost of international adoptions” — an assertion which flies in the face of basic free-market economics.
The next statement was also odd: “Uniting together greatly reduces the risk of
the same children being chosen by families from competing agencies.” Perhaps;
that is why they shuffle the kids around the photolisting using various
Amrex, on this same page, claimed there was a “non-exclusive licensing agreement” between them and their member agencies.
There was also a link
to a chart explaining how it was all organized. It is worth a read-through if you have the
You will now need to go to
www.archive.org and type in amrex.org or adoptionagencies.org in the "Wayback"
You will now need to go to www.archive.org and type in amrex.org or adoptionagencies.org in the "Wayback" machine.
When Dennis Gornostaev and Dennis Kaselak of IACS were out of the picture, Denise had no choice but to sign on with Serg Nickols and his wife Marina Zakharova, the operators of Amrex in Alpharetta, Ga. Amrex became her main source of Russian and Kazakh referrals.
Denise Hubbard was attempted to open a Romanian program also in June 2001. As late as September 2001, she (or someone connected to her) told prospective clients on an email listserv BBAS had Romanian children available for adoption ... several months after Romania had imposed a moratorium on new foreign adoptions in response to sharp criticism of its heavily corrupt adoption system from a member of the European Parliament.
Unfortunately, BBAS hadn’t been in business long enough to be accredited by
the Russian Ministry of Education (MoE) in Moscow. Nor had they the
longstanding “contacts” required to gain the sought-after accreditation.
In 2001 much debate went on on FRUA regarding accredited versus unaccredited agencies doing adoptions in Russia. We don’t know either way. At the time, both unaccredited and accredited and independent facilitators were working in various regions, still processing children for adoption. By 2006, independent adoptions were all but shut down.
There were many opinions about accredited versus unaccredited agencies. But
I can tell you with knowledge, using an Amrex-unaccredited agency was not
the way to go.
Amrex got in a snag. In order to process adoptions through their facilitators in various regions of Russia (I am thinking of the Amur, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg regions), they had to have some of their paperwork drawn up stating the name of an accredited agency.
In some cases, they were using the accreditation of both Adoption Alliance and Beacon House to “umbrella” under (a practice the Ministry of Education stated in no uncertain terms was not permissible under the new rules).
Unfortunately, there developed a
problem between Adoption Alliance and Amrex, and the relationship has since been
severed. That left them with Beacon House as their only accredited agency
Later on, they were to add Adoption Placement as their other accredited
agency, and that proved to be disasterous.
Later on, they were to add Adoption Placement as their other accredited agency, and that proved to be disasterous.
Much would be written about Amrex in the subsequent years. Too much to go into here.
From personal exchanges with clients who were burned by Amrex-associated facilitators in Russia and then treated poorly by Amrex agencies in the United States (with the exception of one), we tend to be critical of the entire operation and the commodification of children as they were shifted to various agencies on the photolisting sites.
Our only wish is that those who have been burned by both Amrex’s Russian facilitators and their member agencies stand up and tell others of their tale so that others won’t be taken in.
There is strength in numbers. We
are not the ones to do that in this website.
Brian Towell, a fellow BBAS client who traveled to the Amur region, reported traveling with Beacon House clients to adopt their children. Another Amrex client using a different agency stated the same thing.
When they got to Russia, they
noticed that neither Building Blocks nor the agency were mentioned on their paperwork.
On Jan. 5, 2001, I called Amrex directly. I wanted to know if they would cough up any information over the telephone to me about BBAS and accreditation. A friendly woman named “Oksana” answered the telephone.
I later learned that Oksana Barash was the “doctor” who worked at the Alpharetta
office. I do not have confirmation if this was the woman’s identity
or of her true employment status, or what kind of degree she has that allows her
to claim the title of doctor.
I told her that I was a client who had signed up with BBAS and was wondering if they had any complaints about them. Oksana told me no, not that she knew of. I then asked her how long BBAS and Denise Hubbard and Amrex had been working.
She paused and grabbed their file. “December 1999,” she said.
That was about the time Dennis Gornostaev and Denise had their final
rupture. But, she went on, “as a matter of fact” she gushed, “Building
Blocks is one of our most aggressive agencies!”
What does “aggression” have to do with adoption? (well, we knew the answer
all too well already) And why would Denise
Hubbard’s agency have to be “aggressive”? Is aggression a
prerequisite of being in the Amrex organization?
During the battle over this issue on FRUA in January and February 2001, someone concerned about agencies lying to prospective clients emailed us privately.
They said they were very, very concerned about something on BBAS website stating that BBAS was “accredited.”
“This is a lie!” the person wrote. “BBAS is NOT accredited! They are not on the official list from the MoE as
having received accreditation!”
This would be
the place to check to see if an agency is accredited in Russia or not.
Upon reading that, Daniel and I checked it out on BBAS’s website under “What’s
New.” On Feb. 2, 2001, this was in black and white for all people to
see, right under an advertisement for an INFORMATION SEMINAR to be held on
Saturday, Feb. 24, in Alexandria, Va.:
Blocks Adoption Service, Inc. is currently, and will continue to, match parents
seeking to adopt from Russia with children from the Russian Federation. We
are accredited to complete adoptions through our international
intermediaries and U.S. business associates. Building Blocks Adoption Service,
Inc. currently has several children immediately available for placement through
the Russian Federation. Please contact our office for details.
Days later, the language was cumbersomely rewritten: “Our
rights and access to the required accreditations to complete Russian adoptions
are obtained through our international intermediaries and U.S. associates.”
Once again, Denise was deliberately and publicly LYING
to prospective clients about a very important aspect of the adoption process to
bring them in the door! Accreditation of her agency in the Russian
Federation! That would be the day!
Then came the new BBAS prices for Russian adoption with Amrex as their “facilitators.” I took note that the phrase “and up” appeared under “Russia and Kazakhstan” in their literature. A lot.
“And up” was a phrase Denise had once used to me on the telephone when discussing certain other agencies and the sales job at their adoption seminars. She said to me during this conversation, “Clients will be shown all the happily completed adoptions. When they hear how much it costs, they will hear $5,000 — and up and not hear the ‘and up.’”
Interesting to note Denise herself began to do what she so admonished. Previously, she had mentioned being against “Horse and Carriage shows” about adoption in order to “sell” clients on an agency — seminars like EAC ran. It was a different tune she was now singing to bring in the clients and their cash.
Her seduction by the dark side was complete. When we came to her she had been but the learner.
Now she was the master.
It didn’t surprise me to see the phrase “and up” on her new price listings
(and you don’t want to know how much “up” there could be for children of
various ages, health and sex).
Building Blocks Program Fee
Russian Program Fee
$7,175 and up
(depending on age of the child)
The application fee was the same for all programs, and the
“BBAS Program Fee” was the same. The Bulgarian and Romanian programs
had an “Identification Fee” of $1,500 a varying “Dossier Fees” of $680
or $400. Their current prices for a Guatemalan adoption are steep.
Of course, the photolistings were brought clients through BBAS’s doors in droves in early 2001. Many just happened to be over searching on Rainbow Kids or Precious, when their eyes fell upon a beautiful, darker-skinned child who resided in “Eastern Europe.” Sometimes a name was attached to the child.
Of course they would contact the agency immediately and be told “Bulgaria.”
Of course they could travel immediately to see the child and plop down $7,500 or
whatever the going rate was.
During this time, one prospective parent from the Northwest, Melissa Whalen, posted to the Topica Bulgaria list a link to a girl named Meral from Bulgaria. The link led to the Rainbow Kids photolisting and the girl, housed in the Kurjali orphanage, was listed under BBAS.
My heart stopped when saw where the link was coming from — and which agency was listed.
And then, almost as suddenly, she made a public post stating that Meral was not legally available for adoption. Upon seeing this, on Jan. 29, 2001, I wrote her.
The next day, she responded:
Hi, Elizabeth, Others on the list had made mention to your story, but I was unaware of the details. btw, I appreciate you writing to me. The day after I wrote that letter, I found out that they did not even have relinquishment papers on this child!
Because of the previous posts, I have been hesitant to send them ANY money, even the registration, but they just received the video, so I was going to send them the registration fee in order to view the video. They had asked how soon I could travel, and I was going to go rather quickly....
However, I had MANY questions. Had I not asked the right questions, I never would have found out that there were not even relinquishment papers. Upon travel, I would have had to pay them $3K and $9K in Bulgaria. Without reliquishment papers, there is no quarantee that I would ever had really gotten that child!!!
I cannot afford to spend that kind of $$ on my life dream, only to lose it. I cannot believe that the usual course of Bulgarian adoption includes waiting for the court processes that should have been done before the child was ever referred to any agency!!
Ultimately, Ms. Whalen adopted two older girls from Russia with an entirely different agency and facilitation service.
(Interestingly, this is not her last appearance in the Building Blocks story. Later that year, she posted a lengthy, rambling account of her experiences to different mailing lists. Denise cribbed this in its entirety and edited it slightly to make it into negative propaganda against Irina O’Rear. She then sent it to Alysha Towell in an attempt to dissuade her from using Irina to appeal their first adoption’s denial).
Another client who inquired about a Bulgarian adoption was given an immediate referral. This person was nowhere near paper-ready and hadn’t even completed a homestudy in California.
The pressure to adopt the child was immense; the woman says Denise told her that if she didn’t say yes immediately to the girl, she would lose the referral.
It would have served everyone’s interests if the
woman had information instead of emotional harangue with respect to adopting the
child. Denise gave her the name of a current Bulgaria client as well; the client
told her it was okay to travel for they too had been ignorant about Bulgaria and
its adoption process (See “The Blevins & Maria”).
Families should not be hustled onto airplanes to go to a foreign country to adopt a child if they have not completed an agency homestudy.
Especially Bulgaria. Especially a child that was identified from a photo on the Internet. The risk of losing a child you have begun to think of as yours is just too great.
Denise just hoodwinked clients in at this time, was never realistic about the timeline, even in February 2001, and used emotional blackmail to get the clients in the pipeline.
This is not the way you should adopt a child
internationally. This is not the way an agency and its agents should be
placing children with families.
In February 2001 I was lurking on ivillage’s international adoption boards. It was with great dismay I took note yet another family was being led astray by Denise regarding a Bulgarian child with a cleft lip who had been identified from Rainbow Kids.
The poster mentioned the agency (this was before she was “educated” by
Denise about posting on the Internet) and the orphanage the child was in. She went on to describe her short trip earlier that month and being
told the prospect of “rushing” the child’s paperwork through the Bulgarian
Ministries and court system.
I, being the ever helpful post-BBAS client, emailed her privately and told her to join the EEAC Bulgaria email list, which she did. One of her first public postings was asking if special-needs cases were indeed expedited.
At no time did I tell this client of our experience. I also gave her the names and email addresses of other BBAS clients whose children were in the same orphanage as her special needs son.
Unfortunately, she mentioned to Denise that I had contacted
her. Denise told her that she was to contact BBAS if I ever emailed her
However, she became steadily dismayed at the length of time it took for the dossier to work its way through the Ministries.
She had been hoping to travel to pick her son up before Christmas 2001. She was in for a surprise.
They came home at the end of January 2002. So much for that
“expedited special-needs adoption” that she was promised.
Today, we wish we could say that Denise Hubbard had discontinued treating her clients shabbily. We really wish we could write that.
But the opportunistic, uncaring and avaricious person she truly is just cannot be so easily hidden by her faux-goodwill in the beginning of the adoption process.
Like all good con people she will forget your name and demand your money when
it is due. And let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.
Labeling people as “opportunistic, uncaring and avaricious” is not my way.
But Denise Hubbard is one person I can in all honesty say is all three,
due to her history of lack of concern towards her clients needs once they hit a
“bump” in the process. And here I will give you the greatest reason for this.
In February 2001, another BBAS client and I were exchanging email. This particular client’s young adoptive son was having adjustment problems.
He had been brought home from an orphanage in Eastern Europe (not using BBAS) and had sufficient institutional delays which the family was attempting to overcome with professional help.
The family was still in the process of adopting from another EE country using BBAS.
During the process, the child psychiatrist treating their child’s problems
asked them which agency the family was using to adopt from the EE country.
The wife told her son’s psychiatrist, “We’re using Building Blocks.”
She shook her head and looked upset. She told the family that she had handled two dissolutions from BBAS clients within a 12-month period.
Two!!!! The psychologist went on to say what bad communication there was
from Denise Hubbard. Not only bad communication, but a total lack of concern,
care of understanding for both the children and their parents.
This was news to me. Very sad news.
The family had mentioned the psychiatrist’s name and I took it upon myself to call her. She was very forthcoming during our telephone conversation.
We discussed the “invisible trauma” of adoption dissolutions and our dislike for the lies that adoptive parents are told once the children are home.
explained why I was calling and asked for input about the two dissolutions she
had helped the two BBAS clients through. I told her the name of the BBAS
client with whom I was in contact and how I had gotten the office number and name.
The two dissolutions were from different countries. One from Russia, the other from Romania (where BBAS was just on the verge of setting up a program, and as far as we know had never placed any children before the moratorium. For all we know she may have confused it with Bulgaria).
The psychiatrist, for very obvious professional reasons, could not tell me who the families were who had undergone the breakups. She went on to say that when she attempted to speak with Denise Hubbard, Denise’s attitude had been one of “Yeah, so what? What’s your point? Who cares?”
She did not attempt to help out her former clients in any way, shape or
form when it came to the re-placement of obviously maladjusted children.
She asked me what credentials, if any, Denise had to run an adoption agency. I told her, “Well, I know that she ran an office inventory firm briefly in 1991 and that may have been an office cleaning service as well.” At that time, this was all we knew (for what we know now, click here. It’s even worse).
We both laughed, but the psychiatrist told me one thing: “Denise Hubbard has
no business running an adoption agency due to the lack of concern she showed
towards the family and the children.”
One thing adoption agencies hate is to let word out of those unsuccessful placements from EE that generate so much news.
To those two BBAS families and their children I will merely say this: bad situation, bad agency, bad person to deal with at bad agency. May you all go on to better things and forget the bad experience.