A Florida woman is accused of fleecing a Port Washington couple after they contracted to adopt her baby and paid her $7,000 for personal expenses - not knowing she had arranged for another family to adopt the baby, the Nassau County district attorney's office said.
In the end, Jessica Dreves, 33, of Jacksonville, Fla., kept the baby girl, according to prosecutors. Dreves was arraigned Monday in Nassau County Court in Mineola on a third-degree grand larceny charge. If convicted, she faces up to 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison. Bail was set at $5,000 cash or bond and she is due back in court Sept. 21.
Last year, Dreves answered an online advertisement posted by a lawyer for Lisa and Joseph Weiner of Port Washington, who were seeking to adopt a baby privately. The couple sent her the money to pay for personal expenses, prosecutors said, a practice legal in New York.
In late September, the couple lost contact with Dreves, and their lawyer tracked her to an Iowa adoption agency called Abby's One True Gift. The agency said Dreves had contracted through the agency in March 2009 for a Massachusetts couple to adopt the baby, according to the district attorney. The adoption agency declined to comment Monday.
Lisa Weiner called Dreves as she was recovering in a Florida hospital after delivering the child in October, and Dreves hung up on her, prompting the Weiners to contact Port Washington police, prosecutors said.
Dreves' lawyer, Eric Sears, of Manhattan, said his client didn't extort money and has the right to change her mind about the adoption of her child.
"She's not obligated to give the money back," Sears said. "It's in the contract. It's a risk adoptive parents take." Prosecutors said they believe the baby is in the custody of Dreves' mother.
Dreves does not face criminal charges in Massachusetts, according to the district attorney's office. She has a previous felony conviction for possession of counterfeit money and is also wanted on a warrant issued by Baltimore County police in Maryland for a 2003 failure to report to probation, prosecutors said.
"The devastation and the pain that this caused to my husband, to myself and to my daughter has been something that words cannot describe," said Lisa Weiner. "The only thing I would hope can come of this is that we learned a very hard way about the adoption process and hopefully other families who want to adopt will learn from us."
The Weiners believed they were going to adopt the baby almost up to the delivery date, they said. "It was as close as if I were going to the hospital to deliver the baby," Lisa Weiner said. "We painted the room, let's put it that way," Joseph Weiner said.
The Weiners' heartache is similar to that of Brigid Vogt of Seaford, whose lawyer, Kevin Cohen of Roslyn, was accused last year of swindling her out of tens of thousands of dollars in a false adoption scheme. Cohen pleaded not guilty; his case is pending.
"It's the scariest thing, entering into something like this," Vogt said. "Everybody says you have to be smart. You can't think with your heart, you have to think with your head.
"But who goes into an adoption without their heart?" Vogt added.
Dreves is due back in court Sept. 21.
With Gary Dymski