LITTLE ROCK — Calling their actions "horrific" and "despicable," a judge Tuesday ordered the former owners of a now-defunct adoption agency found guilty of defrauding couples and individuals looking to adopt children to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution and penalties.
The judgment resulted from a lawsuit the attorney general filed in 2010 against now-defunct Adoption Advantage Inc., alleging the company made false promises about its ability to place a child with prospective parents while owners Ed Webb and Donna Gail Hight fraudulently collected thousands of dollars in upfront fees.
A Pulaski County jury in April unanimously found that Hight and former Adoption Advantage employee Jacklyn Potter had violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Previously, Circuit Judge Macki Pierce had entered a default judgment against Webb and the company.
In his order Tuesday, Pierce described the defendants’ actions as "simply horrific," and added that "words cannot adequately describe the despicable conduct."
The judge ordered the defendants to pay a total of $850,749 in restitution to 33 married couples and four individuals, and 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.
According to the state lawsuit, Adoption Advantage claimed to specialize in domestic infant adoptions and lied to prospective parents about the availability of birth mothers seeking adoptive parents for their infants. Those prospective parents were asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees and were asked to sign a contract and wire money to be able to "immediately" adopt a child, according to the suit. The couples and individuals paid an average of $23,000 each to the agency.
"Many Arkansas families who earnestly wished to adopt were left with despair and heartbreak after dealing with the defendants," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a statement Tuesday. "Some consumers gave their life savings to this company to adopt a child. Instead, these callous individuals stole their hopes, dreams and their money."
Pierce’s 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.