Preying on Parents
Since posting her story on the Internet, PJ Whiskeyman says she's emailed or spoken with dozens of other families who say they were duped by Yuonona and are out thousands of dollars. One of those people was Mary Perdue.
Perdue had spent many months working to arrange Victor's adoption from Russia. Because of Yunona's prominent Web sites, she assumed the company was a big, professional agency.
But after signing her contract, Perdue soon found the Yunona wasn't living up to its promises, with lost documents, unanswered phone calls and long, unexplained delays. She worried that her adoption of Victor was in trouble.
Perdue's phone conversations, which she recorded with a small tape machine, reveal chaos within Yunona "I didn't go into this thinking people would hold my hand," she says on tape. "But I did expect information and honesty."
By pushing Yunona's staff, Perdue soon discovered some secrets about the company. On her contract, Yunona was listed as an "adoption agency." But Yunona wasn't a licensed adoption agency at all. The company operates through a loophole in California law that allows unlicensed facilitators to arrange adoptions for families across the nation, virtually unregulated. Nor did Yunona have legal standing in Russia. Instead, Mary was told Yunona had a contract and "legal cover" with an agency that was accredited in Russia, Christian World Adoption. A Christian World representative declined to discuss the case, citing confidentiality laws. Christian World also declined to answer questions about Yunona.
As the delays continued, Perdue also heard about another family that was having problems adopting a child in the same region of Russia where Victor was living. A Yunona secretary told Perdue that the company was bribing a judge to try to get the case sorted out. Perdue raised the matter with the Yunona representative handling Victor's case.
Perdue says the conversation suggested Yunona was willing to bribe judges, but she doesn't know whether Yunona paid off judges in her case. When Perdue finally was cleared to travel to Russia, she was told not to mention Yunona to any officials and to take $9,000 in cash to give company representatives. At last the Perdues brought Victor to his new home in Iowa. But their troubles were just beginning.
Yunona told Mary Perdue that Victor was gentle and a deep sleeper, but in Iowa she discovered a different child: a boy, now eight, who never slept for more than four hours, was obsessed with fire and knives and was prone to long, violent rages.
Victor's screams, shouts and moans were captured on Perdue's small tape recorder. "I taped (him) because nobody believed that he would scream for hours," she says.
Victor often focused his rage on Kim, Mary's younger daughter, who's disabled and in a wheelchair.
"He really took it out on Kim," says Perdue. "He threatened to eviscerate her. He popped her in the mouth for no reason. He would push her wheelchair into walls and corners. And I just knew he was going to open that basement door one day when I was at work and put her down there."
A psychologist diagnosed Victor with numerous emotional disorders and concluded he had been severely abused and physically scarred in Russia.
"He had scars all over his head and we couldn't get it out of him what it was," says Perdue. "Come to find out he was given punishment by being put in a great big plastic garbage can, full of water, and they closed the lid."
For 18 months, the Perdues tried counseling and even residential treatment. Nothing worked. So last year, with a heavy heart, Mary gave up custody of Victor. An Iowa judge sent the boy to a special facility where he lives as a ward of the state. The Perdues believe Yunona and the Russian orphanage concealed Victor's medical history to make him more marketable.
"I made it crystal clear from the beginning that I wanted a healthy child," says Perdue. "At the very best, they lied. At the very worst, they're doing everything illegal."