Oh, Baby Baby
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jennifer Potter. While she resided with her outwardly happy blond family in Los Angeles County, she lived mostly in her mind. When she grew up, she would remember things that other people said never happened.
She would use different names, depending on who she was talking to. She would give birth to many children from many fathers, and she would adopt other children. And even though she would later give some of those adopted children away, she believed kids were her reason for living. She wanted to create happy families, as she believed hers should have been. She worked hard, built a successful adoption referral business in California in the late '90s and later lost it in bankruptcy in 2000.
So Jennifer Potter went to court and changed her name to Jennalee Ryan (sometimes just "Jenna") in 2000. She moved to San Antonio in 2005 and built what she called the "world's first human embryo bank," which she advertised on a Web site for a company she called The Abraham Center of Life (www.theabrahamcenteroflife.com). She wanted to facilitate the creation and sale of frozen embryos. The story went worldwide. She didn't expect the media backlash. Designer babies, critics railed. Aryan embryos.
The media wanted to know the ethical implications. Reporters corralled professors of bioethics who raised the specters of eugenics and Brave New World. They talked about an explosion of blond-haired, blue-eyed über-infants.
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The freak-show aspect was juicy enough that no one bothered to check out who Jennalee Ryan really was; the allegations of violence and financial fraud that followed her from California to Texas; her ties to an adoption agency in Utah, a state whose adoption laws allow out-of-state birth mothers to give up their kids without notifying the father or state adoption authorities.
In the world of adoption "advertising" and facilitation, there are thousands of dollars to be had with each expectant mother. The definitions of adoption advertising and facilitation are vague and confusing enough to allow a smart person to set up shop in the right state and make money off birth moms and adoptive parents throughout Texas and the country, without any license or regulations. Jennifer Potter, a.k.a. Jennalee Ryan, is a smart person.
And, for her baby business, Texas is the right state.
It's March 1996 in Riverside County, about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and Jennifer Potter is talking to a newspaper reporter for a story about interracial marriages. As a white woman married to a black man, she says, she has felt the sting of being other.
"In a mixed relationship, you have to take on the social pressures blacks have always dealt with," she's quoted as saying in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Potter is described as owning an adoption agency; her husband, Cornelius Braxton, is a model and actor when he's not at nursing school. She tells the reporter that police suspected Braxton in a recent neighborhood robbery, "despite the fact that the couple lives on 3 1/2 acres in a $500,000 home in Temecula."
Potter speaks glowingly of their four-year-old son, who she describes as "a star in preschool." She says her father "disowned" her for her relationship with Braxton, but he "has had a change of heart, and loves visiting his grandson."
A few details don't make it into the story, namely that Jennifer Potter and Cornelius Braxton were never married. (Ryan would later tell the Houston Press it was a common-law marriage, but California does not recognize such a relationship.)
Also left out of the story: In 1993, Potter filed a restraining order against Braxton for domestic violence, according to Riverside County court records. According to the visitation schedule they hammered out, the four-year-old preschool star would be exchanged between Potter and Braxton at an Arco gas station on the first and third weekends of the month. Braxton declined to comment for this story.
It also might have jacked up the newspaper story if Potter gave one of her vivid descriptions of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. How, when she lay in her bed at night, she would hear his footfalls down the hall and pray that he didn't stop at her room. According to these stories, Gerald Potter painted blacks and blues with his belt, and little Jennifer was his canvas. There were times when she was so bruised, she couldn't go to school.
And now, the man loved to visit his grandson.
Four months later, same newspaper: Jennifer Potter of Temecula is picketing her branch of Bank of America. Her 19-year-old nanny has apparently stolen her checkbook and withdrawn $9,000 over an eight-month span. Even though the nanny will ultimately plead guilty, the bank will not reimburse Potter's money. Potter, who is now described as having eight kids, is apparently outraged enough to leave her $500,000 home and picket on a regular basis.
"I'm going to do it once a week," she tells the reporter.
Eleven months later, July 1997, same paper: A news brief indicates that a Wildomar woman named Jennifer Potter-Clay is planning a demonstration outside the Riverside County District Attorney's office. She says the DA isn't doing enough to collect child support from deadbeat dads. Potter-Clay has left her phone number, in case anyone wants to support her.
Eighteen days later, same paper: Potter-Clay's protest was called off, but she and others have formed an organization that will somehow "target" the deadbeat dads. Potter-Clay, who has eight children, is described as being "the owner of a successful adoption agency in Lake Elsinore and the producer of inspirational programs for television."
Two years later, August 1999, same paper: Potter-Clay, of Murrieta, "founder and president of the advocacy group Thursday's Child," is interviewed for a story on the county's weak job of enforcing child-support collections.
Eight days later, Rocky Mountain News (Denver): Jennifer Potter-Clay, the spokeswoman for a "southern California production company" called Silver Spoon Productions, is seeking heartwarming stories for an upcoming series called "The Good News."
"We are here to listen and report good news, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Potter-Clay says. She gives the company's address in Lake Elsinore.
This is the last appearance of Jennifer Potter-Clay. In a few months, she will cease to exist.
When she's reborn as Jenna Ryan of Temecula, she's not so interested in good news. She has been interviewing inmates of an Alabama prison for her documentary, Inside the Criminal Mind, which is narrated by attorney and true-crime author Vincent Bugliosi. Ryan figured, who else better than the man who prosecuted Charles Manson and cowrote Helter Skelter to narrate her crawl into the crevices of warped minds?
She enters and places second in the Temecula Valley International Film Festival. Now she wants to go to Cannes. She tells the paper that Suzanne Blum, a distributor in Los Angeles, has shown an interest in the documentary. Blum told the Press she was briefly interested in the documentary and that Bugliosi did indeed narrate the film. Bugliosi left the Press a voice mail saying he could not recall the name Jenna Ryan, and suggested contacting his agent if there were any follow-up questions. (After an initial conversation, the agent did not return multiple calls and e-mails.)
"I'm not into glorifying criminals," Ryan tells a reporter for the Press-Enterprise in 2001. "Most are not bad, but what they [have done] is. Every person is capable of crime. For instance, if you are starving, you may steal or even kill."
Her research, the article states, "shows that many who commit crime demonstrated troubled behavior as children."
Thirty-odd years before Jenna Ryan is born, little Jennifer Potter is in Los Angeles County, engaging in one of her pastimes: wishing someone would adopt her.
Between her dad's beatings and her schizophrenic mother's drug addiction, Jennifer is having trouble coping.
And now, the woman named Jennalee Ryan recalls what little Jennifer Potter went through:
"Anywhere I went, I'd, like, look at people...normal people, and just wish and wish and wish that they would adopt me and take me out of the hell that I was in," she says from her home in San Antonio. She figures her interest in adoption sprang from that.
"Psychologically, it's maybe I'm able to rescue [kids], you know," she says, "...and I look at Angelina Jolie, and I kind of see the same thing with her."
Ryan's father, Gerald Potter, is as casual with names as his daughter. He goes by Jediah, or, as his answering machine up near Klamath Falls, Oregon, states, "Jediah the Great." It is difficult to tell if it's tongue-in-cheek.
Jediah denies beating Jennifer. Spanking, sure. But, he says, "I'm a firm believer in ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.'" He says he has "no concept" of why Ryan would say such things, but he hardly sounds troubled by it. "What could one do about it?" he asks.
He's more concerned if these Tales of the Belt originated with Ryan's sister, Linda McDonald, who lives in Riverside County. When told that Ryan vividly described incidents such as Jediah yanking her out of bed by her hair and throwing her to the kitchen floor, ordering her to scrub it on her hands and knees, Jediah still had the feeling that McDonald might be behind it all. He did not suspect his son, Kurt, or his other daughter, Jeanne, neither of whom returned calls seeking comment for this story.
No, there was something about McDonald. Jediah and McDonald don't talk much. And Ryan and McDonald have not spoken in about five years.
This may all be because McDonald considers her sister a sociopath.
"She fits the same exact criteria: the lying, the constantly being in trouble, the lack of empathy," McDonald says, later adding, "If you know anything about sociopaths, they excel in bullshit." When Ryan sought to adopt three kids, McDonald, troubled by Ryan's management of her five biological children, claims she urged state adoption authorities to deny Ryan's request.
But the adoptions were approved. And, in 1993, the Angelina Jolie-like rescuing began in earnest.
That year, Ryan (still Jennifer Potter) incorporated A Silver Spoon Adoptions. It was one of the first adoption facilitation services, which originated in California, and to the distaste of most licensed adoption agencies spread to states with facilitation-friendly laws, or, better yet, no facilitation laws at all. A facilitator is basically a baby-broker, earning a fee for matching a birth mother with adoptive parents. The overhead is low and the client base is high.
National Council For Adoption spokesman Lee Allen says the Council recommends dealing only with licensed and accredited adoption professionals. As he puts it, adoption should be in the best interests of the child, and facilitators have no allegiance to any party.
When Ryan had enough clients, she hired contractors, who worked on commission. A Silver Spoon ran ads in Yellow Pages nationwide, encouraging birth mothers and adoptive parents to call for help with their respective needs. A few years later, when she could promote her services online, she was able to further grow her business. She seemed like a person who knew about kids. Her Web site showed Mom and her eight kids gathered around the dining room table. An accompanying article from an unnamed newspaper begins, "Jennifer Potter finds time for eight kids and running her own business, too. How does she do it?"
The article describes how she's able to run an adoption agency, produce shows for television and open a restaurant, all while doing three loads of laundry and reading bedtime stories every day.
She talks about being strict with the kids, six of whom are boys.
"By my being my best at this, I'm able to offer my children opportunities they never would have had otherwise," she's quoted as saying. She ends with, "I get eight times more good stuff than somebody that has one child. I get eight times more of everything."
But a few years later, she was only getting six times more. While she had adopted two boys and a girl (all as infants) over the years, she later gave up the girl and one boy. By the time that boy, who we'll call Max, was four, Ryan decided he was gay. She loved Max, but told the Press that, because her other boys were traditional "macho" males, she was afraid they would taunt, or possibly hurt, Max.
According to Ryan, the four-year-old flamed so brightly that "he'd take a towel and put it on his head like it was hair, and then he'd start lip-synching to Britney Spears." The Potter household was just not a safe place for Max. She eventually placed him with a gay couple from L.A.
In the case of the girl, who we'll call Sandra, Ryan said she was born to a young Hindu woman who did not want to confront her parents. After Ryan's failed attempts to place Sandra in a good home, she eventually adopted the child herself.
Ryan says she told the birth mom, "‘Listen, I'm always going to feel like this is your child.' I'd never felt like it was mine."
The three kept in regular contact, and, about five years later, mother and daughter were reunited.
Since Ryan kept the third adopted child, she is able to promote herself to this day as an "adoptive mother."
Fluctuating head counts aside, business was great. According to a 1999 contract filed in Riverside County Court, A Silver Spoon charged adoptive parents $5,800 for "adoption facilitation services." Even though the contract is headlined "A Silver Spoons Adoption Advertising Coordination Agreement," the contract explicitly states that the company has not "presented" itself as "an adoption advertising service." The language was important. In California, advertisers were subject to regulation; facilitators weren't.
These facilitation fees helped Ryan buy homes throughout Riverside County, at least one of which was used as a home for birth mothers flown in from all over the country. Among her many vehicles were a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce. Her client list was in the hundreds, according to sources who did not want to speak for attribution.
But by 1997, it appeared that perhaps the main reason the money was flowing was that Ryan wasn't paying her bills. That year, the company that placed Ryan's Yellow Pages ads sued Ryan for nonpayment of $891,000. In 1999, the Supreme Court of the State of New York entered a $914,000 judgment against her and for an advertising company called TMP Worldwide. A "sister" judgment was later entered in Riverside County, but would languish in appeals until finally being accepted in 2001. In the years between, Ryan scrambled to save her properties from being foreclosed on in case of a judgment against her.
She transferred some deeds to her brother. She incorporated a company in the Cayman Islands called Tanaka & Hiroshi Enterprises, and had that company slap a lien on some other properties.
Meanwhile, Ryan and her employees tried their best to avoid service of subpoenas. According to process servers' allegations in affidavits filed in Riverside County Court, Ryan and one of her employees led servers on high-speed car chases. In one case, as the process server reached Ryan's driveway, "five or six kids came out of a car and one of the girls ran up to the house screaming, ‘The man with the papers is here.' When I got to the door, the kids were trying to shut the door on me. I saw a woman with blond hair in the kitchen, trying to hide from me. I believe she was Jennifer Potter."
In another instance, a process server allegedly "knocked on the door and a young man answered who stated, ‘There is no Jennifer...here! Get off my property!' As I went to my car to write down the information, he came up to me and started going off, ‘It's people like you who messed with me in school'...He chased me in my car down the street."
In January 2000, around the time she said she was working with Vincent Bugliosi on Inside the Criminal Mind, she sat down for a judgment debtor's exam, where she told lawyers all her aliases: Jennifer Potter-Clay, Jennifer Langlois, Jennifer Robinson and Jenna Ryan. (She would officially change her name to Jennalee Ryan a few months afterward, explaining in her petition that her "biological" father's and grandfather's last name was Ryan.) She also revealed all of her business interests, which included A Silver Spoon Adoptions, A Silver Spoon Productions, A Silver Spoon Portrait Studio, and Mirage Productions. Now the lawyers for TMP, the advertising agency that won the judgment against her, had to nail down her assets and which of her businesses were operated under which name.
Things did not go smoothly. After she had the chance to peruse the transcript of her deposition for errors, she wrote the following on the first page: "Due to not using my prescription pills...I was untruthful in answering most of the questions that were asked of me throughout the deposition."
Therefore, Ryan first admitted, then denied, that she withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from A Silver Spoon Adoptions, much of which was split between herself and a "business associate" named Ricky Clay (it is not clear if this "Clay" has any relation to the alias "Potter-Clay"). Some of this money was used to lease video and camera equipment, ostensibly for Inside the Criminal Mind, as well as A Silver Spoon Portrait Studio. She also admitted, then denied, that Clay agreed to pay Ryan's way to a "TV production convention."
Outraged by TMP's treatment, and claiming that her unjustified judgment was due to a "teeny little clause" in her contract, Ryan took out the domain name www.tmpworldwide.net and gave her side of the story.
She may have been off her prescription pills when she wrote her story, because there are some inaccuracies right off the bat. "First, let me introduce myself," she wrote. "My name is Jennifer Potter." But it wasn't. It was Jennalee Ryan. "I am a single mother of eight children." It is not clear if she had already un-adopted Sandra and little gay Max.
After describing how TMP screwed her, she concluded, "I hope that my story does not resemble ‘whining.' I have always been a hard worker and have never asked for or depended on anyone for help of any kind. I rose from a homeless teenager living on the streets to a person that is well-respected in the marketing community."
And why did she want to publicize her plight?
"First let me introduce myself. My name is Jennalee Ryan, and I am an adoptive parent."
The words appear on the Web site for San Antonio's Abraham Center of Life, beside a picture of Ryan cradling a pink infant wrapped in a blanket. The Web site is actually the province of two companies. The eponymous Abraham Center, with offices in Texas and California, is described as an "advertising service" that refers interested parties to facilities that can meet their needs for egg donation, surrogacy or embryo donation. The other business, alternately referred to as "A Abagails [sic] Silver Spoon Adoption" and the A-less "Abagails Silver Spoon Adoptions," is an advertising service for the adoption of full-blown human beings. At first, it appears to be just another crudely-designed Web site for a fledgling business a weird fledgling business, but innocuous nonetheless. What kicked up the creep factor was an announcement (it's actually headlined "Announcement") posted on the site around the fall of 2006, reading: "The Abraham Center of Life wishes to announce the opening of North America's first human embryo bank."
"We are THE ONLY SERVICE in the United States that offers egg donors, traditional and gestational surrogacy, frozen embryo donation AND adoption services," the text under the announcement read. "We are also unique in that we offer a program for shared egg retrieval cycles."
"First human embryo bank" and "shared egg retrieval cycles" were the key phrases here. While there were already thousands of extant frozen embryos held in cryobanks around the country, it appeared that Ryan wanted to create new embryos to keep on the shelf for future sale. And the Abraham Center's staff would help parties on either side through every step of the process "finding a physician, medical screenings, psychological screenings, financial arrangements, and legal aspects of the agreements."
In actuality, there was no staff, other than Ryan's daughter, Lisa Marie Robinson, who answered the businesses' shared 800 number. And there was no human embryo bank, since Ryan ran the business out of her house, with nary an embryo to be found. And there really was no California office, because the address listed for the Abraham Center of Life's office in Temecula, California, is actually the office of an Allstate insurance salesman named James C. Webb, who, in his spare time, runs a licensed adoption agency outside Salt Lake City. But we'll get to that later.
It's not clear who ran with the story first, but the nonexistent First Human Embryo Bank became worldwide news, with stories of boutique babies and apocalyptic bioethical ramifications.
By January 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took an interest in what the Associated Press called "a business that produces batches of ready-made embryos." In an anticlimactic finale, the FDA announced that month that, because there was no actual embryo bank, there was nothing for the FDA to investigate.
Ryan told the San Antonio Express-News that the media was under the erroneous assumption that her business was hands-on, rather than merely an advertising service.
Today, Ryan is careful to make that clear from the outset, perhaps because state laws dealing with adoption-esque services often require a Ouija board to decipher. In Texas, only a parent, guardian or licensed child-placing agency can act as an intermediary between adoptive and expectant parents. And only a licensed child-placing agency can advertise to place, provide or obtain a child. (The Texas Family Code, as it pertains to adoptions, defines "child" as a person under the age of 18 and does not say anything about embryos.)
Ryan is able to circumvent the regulation restricting advertising of such services to a licensed child-placing agency by not actually matching birth moms to adoptive parents. Instead, if an adoptive parent calls the Abraham Center for Life (i.e., Ryan's house), she can give the parent a list of phone numbers for licensed agencies. But she cannot introduce that adoptive parent to a birth mother.
And since she's only advertising, Ryan expressed amazement that the Houston Press would be so interested in her business and personal life. When she finally returned a call to the Press, she said through laughter, "A biography? This is so exciting! I'm that important wow!" She later added, "How did I get to be the lucky one that gets a whole article written on them 'cause they have an interesting background?"
They were odd statements for a woman who, in 1997, commissioned a California freelancer to write a book about her. In 1998, that writer filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in California that Ryan (Potter-Clay at the time) stiffed her for $840 worth of work she had done on a brochure Ryan wanted to promote her business. (The book was to follow the brochure.)
"I believe that a person's ethics or lack of ethics in one instance often carries over into other facets," Marilyn Campbell wrote in her complaint, "and as Ms. Clay is involved in something as sensitive as private adoptions, I think any lapse should be seriously considered."
Fortunately, Campbell still had some notes from her 1997 interview with Ryan in a San Diego hotel room she was sharing with Cornelius "Temporary Restraining Order" Braxton. One highlight of Campbell's notes includes Ryan's talk about interviewing celebrities such as Steven Seagal, David Carradine and Kim Fields (Tootie on The Facts of Life).The notes also state that Ryan talked of being raped, kidnapped and knifed. She of course talks about her eight kids, and how she proudly "cut the cords" on the adopted ones.
But when told the Press story would address her time in California, as well as her children and their fathers, Ryan verbally rolled her eyes. For one thing, she explained, the name change is hardly significant. It was simply because, when she was born in 1957, Jennifer was not that common a name. But by the dawn of the 21st century, the sheer number of Jennifers was such that sometimes both an adoptive mom and a birth mom might be named Jennifer, creating a nightmare of a conference call.
"There are so many dang Jennifers out there, it's so confusing," Ryan says, explaining at one point that "it's like being named Sue or Cathy."
Ryan's enthusiasm for the Press article did not extend to questions about her most recent husband, Jamie Quinonez, a.k.a. Jaime Quinonez, a.k.a. Joe Torivio Quinonez. In 2004, in Riverside County, Quinonez was charged with battery against a spouse and willful injury or harm to a child, among others.
All Ryan would say about the charges is that they resulted from an incident in which Quinonez shot her with a BB gun. She would not describe how or which child was involved. Quinonez pleaded guilty to the willful injury charge; the spousal battery was dropped, according to Riverside County Court records. Quinonez was placed on probation until 2009 and ordered to attend a child battery program. (While Ryan says they are no longer married, Riverside County court records show the couple filed for divorce in 2005 but changed their minds; no divorce records are listed in Bexar County District Court's online database).
In general, Ryan says, "I don't really like talking about who I fucked and got pregnant by. I'm just not comfortable with that. I didn't think that was anybody's business, you know what I'm saying, who I used as a sperm donor."
And as for her kids, how they behave has nothing to do with the Abraham Center of Life or Abagails Silver Spoon Adoptions. But she was eager to clear up the misunderstanding behind a restraining order filed against her children (and her) by a Riverside County neighbor in 2003.
According to Jennifer, the disgruntled neighbor, Robert Hildreth, appeared at her door, red-faced and irate that her 11-year-old son rode his all-terrain vehicle on Hildreth's property, scaring his Friesian horses. (This had been a problem in the tony La Cresta subdivision for some time. The homeowners association had sued Ryan in 2000 for allowing her kids to ride motorcycles and ATVs on other people's lawns.) She let Hildreth address her boy, Sean, figuring he'd scold him. Instead, she says, Hildreth first punched Sean, chased him when he fled, pushed him to the ground and proceeded to kick him. A shocked Ryan called 911, but the cop was not interested in arresting Hildreth.
"Why? I'll tell you why," she says. "Because I was a single mother living in a house with eight children of all different colors, and I lived in a lily-white neighborhood and I was a strong woman and...I didn't march to the tune of everyone else's drum. It's very costly to think outside of the box. There's a price to pay."
So for some reason, after Hildreth beat the tar out of her kid, he successfully sought restraining orders against the Ryan household.
Hildreth declined to comment for this story, but his court petitions explain his side of the story. According to those records, friction arose between three of Ryan's sons and Hildreth's mentally handicapped son. So Hildreth asked the kids to no longer come to his house, and he notified Ryan. When the kids came over ten days later, Hildreth asked them to leave. Ryan subsequently appeared and threatened Hildreth's wife. This was followed a few days later by Ryan's three boys punching Hildreth's boy on the school bus. They continued to harass Hildreth's son.
"They have repeatedly threatened my family and livestock/pets," Hildreth wrote.
But the highlight is Hildreth's explanation for why he included Ryan's seven-year-old boy (the one adopted kid who was not un-adopted) in his request for protective orders.
"[It] is simply intended to force the inattentive mother, Ms. Potter, to keep better watch of her young child and to keep him from coming on our property and getting hurt," he wrote. "[The boy] has shown up at our house (as well as others) unattended by anyone else (we are almost half a mile away) complaining of the treatment he was receiving by his brother, Sean: ‘Sean tied me to a tree with a chain around my neck and beat me with a stick.'"
Now, on to Utah.
Enacted in 1960, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children was designed to monitor interstate adoptions and ensure child welfare by making sure the "sending" and "receiving" states knew exactly where each child was going. Under ICPC guidelines, mothers must notify fathers of children intended for interstate placement.
Apparently, Utah adoption agencies weren't paying strict attention, because in 2001, the Utah Department of Human Services warned agencies it would put the smackdown on any outfit that worked with mothers who did not notify fathers.
Three adoption agencies filed suit in Utah, claiming that ICPC guidelines do not apply to expectant mothers. In 2004, the Utah State Court of Appeals agreed.
One of the suing agencies, Adoption Center of Choice, had previously gained attention for handling the adoption of the child of a Chicago woman who may have been suffering from postpartum depression.
Eula McNulty, 24 at the time, told reporters she wanted to put her seven-month-old son up for adoption, and responded to the Adoption Center of Choice's Yellow Page ad. The agency paid for her flight to its office in Orem, Utah. After McNulty approved of the adoptive couple the agency introduced her to, Adoption Center for Choice gave her $1,300 in cash and sent her back to Chicago. What should have been a smooth exchange of an envelope stuffed with cash for a kid gained notoriety when McNulty changed her mind, but was unable to undo the adoption. (The deadline for a mother and/or father to revoke consent for adoption varies among states, with the most common [15 states] being 72 hours. In Utah, it is 36 hours).
This brings us back to James C. Webb, the aforementioned insurance agent. Although Adoption Center of Choice is located outside Salt Lake City, it was created by and is owned by Webb. Webb's business address is also listed as the address for the Abraham Center of Life's California office, incorporated in February 2007.
Before his multifaceted insurance office was either of those entities, it was home base for A Heart of Gold Adoptions, incorporated in California in 1995 and since dissolved. A 2003 Yellow Pages ad for A Heart of Gold Adoptions lists a Web site and toll-free number that directs people to Adoption Center of Choice, never identified in the ad. While Adoption Center of Choice's Web site features people who are supposedly on staff, no names are mentioned anywhere. But a quick check of state records lists the executive director as GiGi Allred and the owner as James C. Webb.
Webb did not return calls, and Allred wasn't much help. When asked why an ad for something called A Heart of Gold Adoptions directs people to Adoption Center of Choice, Allred said she had no comment. She also had no comment when asked if Webb was in any way affiliated with her agency.
Back to Jennalee Ryan: While she explicitly stated she was strictly an advertiser for Abraham Center of Life, she would not name the person she said actually runs the company.
The only thing she said was, "This particular person also happens to own a licensed adoption agency." She would not name the agency, but she was quick to say it wasn't called the Abraham Center of Life. "He went and registered a whole new company name...He's actually put together a surrogacy, egg donor and embryo donation [service]."
Ryan reiterates: "I advertise. I get names and phone numbers and I hand them to him and I get paid a monthly fee for my advertising."
So, just to make this absolutely clear: Ryan, who advertises for something called the Abraham Center of Life, is paid to refer birth mothers and adoptive parents to a licensed adoption agency that is definitely not the same Abraham Center of Life in California that shares an address with the former A Heart of Gold Adoptions and the current Adoption Center of Choice, which battled adoption consent laws in Utah and reportedly paid a mother $1,300 in cash for her baby.
Ryan says she has a list of 2,000 people looking to snag a frozen embryo, not to mention those seeking traditional adoption services. She no longer advertises in the Yellow Pages, sticking instead to her Web site's traffic and word of mouth in online adoption forums.
After speaking to the Press, Ryan tweaked the Abraham Center's Web site, removing among other things a discussion of how much Abagails Silver Spoon charges for adoption. When the Press spoke with Ryan, the site stated that "Abagails Silver Spoon Adoptions, Inc., charges a flat fee of $8,300. This is for a two-year advertising contract. In addition, you will be required to pay a home study fee [of] $1,500–$2,500..."
She also removed a section dealing with the cost to purchase eggs, which began with a $4,800 base fee to help "advertising, expense account management [and] travel coordination," among other things.
But those changes weren't as radical as the ones Ryan originally intended when she proposed the Press drop the story on her and instead have a reporter write a minibiography on the Abraham Center's site and then cowrite a book about her life and the trouble with American adoption services in general.
Writing the definitive biography on Ryan would be quite an undertaking. If the book began with the way Ryan usually likes her story told, the challenge would arise from the very beginning.
"First, let me introduce myself," it would start. "My name is..."
And then what?
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