CLEVELAND (CN) – The Ohio attorney general filed a lawsuit to dissolve an international adoption agency, claiming it lied about the amount of time it would take to complete adoptions and refused to refund applicants’ money.
Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine sued European Adoption Consultants Inc. and its owner and executive director, Margaret Cole, in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday.
DeWine says the nonprofit corporation misrepresented to its customers the status of their adoption services, transfer of adoption records and status of refunds.
The adoption agency was temporarily debarred by the U.S. Department of State in December for a period of three years, according to the complaint.
European Adoption Consultants, or EAC, is accused of making false representations to its customers about their eligibility to adopt, the program that they were enrolled in, the amount of time for an adoption to be completed, and where their prepaid fees went.
At one point, EAC collected money for a mission trip to Guatemala and told donors that the trip could lead to the “re-opening of the country for intercountry adoption when defendants had no ability to produce such a result,” according to the complaint.
When the debarment occurred, the agency had about 300 customers who had paid for international adoption services and were in various stages of the process, the lawsuit states.
In a post on its website about the debarment, EAC thanked customers for their “patience and understanding during this unexpected and sudden situation.”
“Despite the fact that we disagree with many, if not most, of the statement [sic] and are considering the option of appeal, we still have to make a plan of transfer of all cases by end of this month,” the company said. “The transfer plan will be complete during the last week of December. We will be arranging conference calls in January to explain the transfer plan. After the conference call, your country consultant will be contacting each one of you individually accordingly to the stage of your adoption process to notify you of the transferee agency and with further instructions.”
EAC was required to transfer its pending adoption cases and records to a different accredited agency by Jan. 30 and refund any international adoption services fees by Feb. 14. But DeWine says it has not yet done so.
“To date, defendants have failed to transfer intercountry adoption cases, adoption records and consumers’ paid adoption funds to other accredited agencies or person for adoption services that were in process at the time of the debarment,” the complaint states.
The Ohio attorney general claims customers’ pending adoptions have been frozen or expired and extra time and expenses are likely, including payment of administrative fees to a new adoption agency, fees for certain services to be redone by the new agency, and travel expenses.
“Despite the promises made to consumers by defendants, many consumers have reached out to defendants via phone regarding the failure to provide services, transfer files or funds, or provide refunds are unable to get through to defendants or have their calls answered by an answering service that has no knowledge of the situation and do not receive calls back from defendants,” the lawsuit says.
In addition, Cole, the owner, told board members in January 2015 that she had donated her personal real estate to EAC and loaned it $300,000 because she was concerned with its ability to show liquid assets, according to the lawsuit. “Defendant Cole made the above false or misleading statements and representations to board members regarding the amount and type of assets that Defendant EACI possessed,” the complaint states.
DeWine claims EAC breached its fiduciary duty and wants a judge to order the reformation of the charitable trust. He also wants the corporation to be dissolved and all assets and proceeds to be distributed to a similar charitable organization.
EAC could not be reached for comment Monday as the contact phone number listed on its website is disconnected.