Suzette Brewer
Tulsa attorney Don Mason, a member of the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma

Trafficking Native Children: The Seamy Underbelly of U.S. Adoption Industry

Suzette Brewer
August 27, 2013

Jeremy Simmons was heartbroken, baffled and confused. He had been living with his girlfriend, Crystal Tarbox, in Mannford, Oklahoma, when she became pregnant in August, 2012. But in March of this year, he says she moved out when she was seven months pregnant. Without a trace, she was gone.

For the next two months, Simmons, 27, searched for Tarbox, who was 23 at the time and already the mother of two small children. Worried about her and their unborn baby, he says he asked everyone he knew about her condition and whereabouts, and tried every possible means to find her. Her relatives, who are members of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, were also unaware of what was about to happen.

But Tarbox, like Christy Maldonado, the birth mother of Baby Veronica, had disappeared, refusing any contact or financial help from Simmons. As Baby Veronica's case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, was being discussed at the U.S. Supreme Court, Simmons was driving around northern Oklahoma looking for his pregnant girlfriend, completely unaware of what was transpiring without his knowledge or consent.

RELATED: The Fight for Baby Veronica: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and all Baby Veronica coverage.

Baby Veronica Case: Capobianco Expert Recants Damning Report on Father

It was not until two days after his daughter, Deseray, was born in May that Simmons, who is non-Indian, learned the truth from the baby's maternal grandmother. Janet Snake called Simmons to alert him that his daughter had been put up for adoption and pleaded with him to find a lawyer to put a stop to it.

Simmons contacted Tulsa attorney Don Mason, who is not only a battle-hardened veteran family law practitioner, but also a member of the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma. He serves as chief judge in their the Delaware Tribal Court in Bartlesville and is also chief public defender in Pawnee Nation Tribal Court in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Mason is an expert on the Indian Child Welfare Act and its application in Oklahoma, which has 39 tribes and the second largest tribal population in the United States. On his client's behalf, he filed a suit, Simmons v. Tarbox, to halt the finalization of the adoption and bring Deseray back to Oklahoma from South Carolina, where she has been living with an adoptive couple who do not have the legal authority or a court order to retain her.

“My client was cut off, lied to, left out of the loop, and never received any notice at all regarding the whereabouts of his child and the intent to remove her from the state of Oklahoma to South Carolina in this illegal adoption. His parental rights have been completely denied and abrogated by all of the attorneys and their clients in this case,” says Mason. “The only reason I got involved was because Deseray's Indian grandmother called him to give him the heads up and asked him to intervene.”

Tarbox's family concurs that they were also caught off-guard, having been kept in the dark about her plans to give the child up for adoption without first notifying Simmons or seeking placement with another family member. “We had no idea what was going on and we were not notified that she had even had the baby until May 15, which was two days after she was born,” says Jana Snake, Tarbox's sister, who is fully supporting Simmons in his quest to obtain custody of his daughter. “She cut us off and didn't tell anybody what she was doing. But I knew that [this adoption] wasn't right. It was illegal and I knew the tribe needed to be notified. So I told my mom to call him and call the tribe to stop it, but it was already too late.”

By the time Simmons was even able to dial Mason's phone number, Baby Deseray had already been spirited away to South Carolina, a state known to be a safe haven for quickie private adoptions to wealthy couples seeking domestic babies in the United States. Time Magazine ran a feature story in 1984 entitled “Newborn Fever—Flocking to an Adoption Mecca,” in which South Carolina's questionable adoption practices are described as “a unique blend of tax laws, aggressive lawyers and open-minded newspapers.” Home studies, it says, are “are routinely waived by South Carolina's lenient family-court judges.”

These practices, say legal experts, have led to a deeply dark underbelly in the U.S. adoption industry that is little different than human trafficking, and in direct violation of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “There's no question that this is human trafficking at its worst. It's the selling of infants and children to the highest bidder,” says Mason. “These kids generate huge legal fees in the process and there is a lot of fee splitting among attorney and adoption practitioners in keeping the assembly line moving.”

Tulsa attorney Mike Yeksavich handled the adoption of Baby Deseray in collaboration with the law firm of Bado and Bado, an Edmond, Oklahoma-based adoption team. Together, the two law firms coordinated the adoption with attorney Raymond Godwin and Nightlight Christian Adoptions in Greenville, South Carolina. Godwin is also the attorney who handled Veronica's adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco in 2009. Veronica's adoption, which also went through without notification to the birth father, Dusten Brown, or the Cherokee Nation, has become the most expensive, litigious custody battle in U.S. History.

RELATED: Second Indian Infant Whisked to South Carolina for Quickie Adoption

Indian Country Today Media Network has also learned that in addition to the fact that no Interstate Custody for the Protection of Children (ICPC) paperwork was filed in the case prior to Deseray's removal from the state, Yeksavich also took the additional step of having himself appointed as the legal guardian of the baby to ensure her speedy adoption in South Carolina. Additionally, Paul Swain, the Tulsa attorney representing the Capobiancos in Oklahoma, also represents Godwin.

Bado and Bado, according to the Oklahoma Bar Association website, has had numerous complaints filed against it and was publicly reprimanded by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys Board of Trustees in 2009 for the mishandled adoption of a Native child to a Kentucky couple.

In their review, the board demanded then that the firm “cease and desist” from the following: Conduct in which they represented themselves as an adoption agency, and not an adoption law firm; providing legal advice and counsel to birth mothers while also representing adoptive parents; holding out employees as “independent contractors”; permitting non-lawyers to practice law or explain legal issues to clients or other parties; involving themselves excessively with birth mothers whom they do not represent; and neglecting to promptly address tribal enrollment, in addition to other sanctions.
Bado and Bado could not be reached for comment by deadline on this story.

It's the lack of oversight on the adoption industry, combined with acts of this nature, say legal experts, that led to the legal Gordian's Knot that became the highly contentious and emotional Baby Veronica case that went to the Supreme Court.

In fact, Indian Country Today Media Network has learned that Raymond Godwin allegedly told another lawyer in South Carolina, who declined to be identified, that he placed “upwards of 50 Native American children from North Dakota” last year alone. In that conversation, Godwin said that Indian children are easier to place, “because they're lighter-skinned.”

Even worse, says Mason, is the blatant marketing and selling of Indian children by lawyers who make anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 in legal fees for these children. “Anyone can do the math and realize that this is an enormous industry in the trafficking of Indian children,” says Mason. “And they're preying on poor, uneducated Native women who are in poverty and have no idea what's going on and don't know any better, which is precisely why ICWA was enacted in the first place. They are predators who do everything in secret to prevent the biological fathers and the tribes from blocking the flow of income they receive off these adoptions.”

Mason says that before Simmons had even received notice on this case, Yeksavich had already filed a motion in Oklahoma County in early July to dismiss the case in Oklahoma courts. Godwin filed a motion for adoption proceedings in South Carolina at the same time in a coordinated effort to push the adoption through. Simmons was only notified of the proceedings in South Carolina on July 24 for the adoption hearing in South Carolina on July 25, which he had no way or means to attend with less than 24 hours to respond to a court action a thousand miles and five states away. As was the case for Baby Veronica's father, Dusten Brown, the wheels had already been set in motion months before to cut him completely out of his daughter's life.

Experts say that by the very nature of complicated and conflicting interstate laws and procedures that adoption attorneys are able circumvent not only mainstream adoption law, but the federal laws involving the Indian Child Welfare Act, as well, which has lead to chaos and confusion for judges, attorneys, birth parents and adoptive couples who may be located in multiple jurisdictions. “I came into this case trying to put the brakes on,” says Mason. “But by the time I even got a hold of it, an Order of Dismissal had already been pushed through without anyone knowing about it. Yeksavich never even gave notice of his intent to dismiss and rushed this right past the judge's desk.”

Mason says it was a family court judge in South Carolina who finally caught on to what was happening. “To the credit of the South Carolina judge, they realized that no ICPC paperwork had been filed and refused to finalize the adoption,” says Mason. “Under the law, this child has been illegally kidnapped from Oklahoma and the judge there appointed Shannon Jones to represent my client there.”

Jones, who also represents Dusten Brown in South Carolina family court, has a thorough understanding of the Indian Child Welfare Act. She is also an expert in the Uniform Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

In the meantime, Mason says he intends to pursue full custody for Jeremy Simmons, even if he has to file an adoption action in Creek County, Oklahoma court for Deseray to be adopted by her father. “These shady adoption practices have to stop,” says Mason. “It is the buying and selling of human beings, which is unconscionable in its vast application in the United States. Its tentacles reach far and wide and one of the only good things to come out of Adoptive Couple is that Dusten Brown has brought to light the shady practices of an adoption industry that actively worked against his parental rights from the beginning. To his everlasting credit, he dug in and fought and he should be commended for that.”



Marilyn Maracle
Marilyn Maracle
Submitted by Marilyn Maracle on

I am sorry to hear this and wish these fathers all the best .... May the Gaurdians continue to watch over these children and continue to protect them ~ <3

Marilyn Maracle
Marilyn Maracle
Submitted by Marilyn Maracle on

I am sorry to hear this and wish these fathers all the best .... May the Gaurdians continue to watch over these children and continue to protect them ~ <3

April A Pohawpa...
Submitted by April A Pohawpa... on

I can understand the feeling I to have a Grandchild that was adopted out to a couple in Ohio.It comes down to the woman claiming who the so called father was and then if they don't step up then the courts go ahead and terminate their parental rights based on them not coming forward and they know the so called alleged absent parent can't hire attorneys do DNA tests so the courts approve lets make the woman responsible it takes two to make one.Lets face it Native Americans are te easiest target for this .

builds-the-fire's picture
Submitted by builds-the-fire on

In my opinion, there is definitely a baby mill in operation between Oklahoma, South Carolina and Nightlife Christian Adoption Agency.

These people were not counting on two things: the reporting here on Indian Country, and the determination of Dusten Brown.

The people involved with Nightlife believe themselves to be "important" and somehow above the law.

If you are reading this, and you know that they are not, please send an e-mail to this address and ask if there should be a criminal investigation of Nightlife Christian Adoption Agency: [email protected]. cc this address: [email protected]. Copy the link to this story, and include it in your e-mail.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

Here we go again! A father has his unborn child stolen & sold like a piece or steak to people of whom the Creator has chosen not to bless them with a child of their own.

What is it with young people today who feel no sense of commitment to the one who fathers their children? What is it with young folks always thinking they need to get the cart before the horse as we called non-married people who choose to live together before consummating their commitment to one another in a ceremony?

The morals today that have developed over the past 30-35 years is appalling & shameful. These types of non-binding relationships have resulted in nothing but the cheapening of the definition of what makes up a family.

Young people, you need to stop getting so caught up in your emotions & stop getting yourselves into a situation that involves producing a child before the benefit of some sort of a marriage ceremony. It is shameful & brings much unnecessary stress & strife into your lives & others as well.

You can call me old fashioned, but I am here to tell you all the Creator has a plan for all of us & a way that is right, of the good ways & brings pride to our families, clans & tribes. When we decide our way is better than the Great Spirit it is at that time that pride of the wrong kind comes before a great fall my friends.

Think about this my friends before you decide to get into a situation that is no longer just about you & your feelings of the moment.

Many times in the heat of passion great sorrow & shame results when we are not ready to accept the consequences that affects not only our future, but also that of others we did not intend to hurt along the way.

texasouthwind's picture
Submitted by texasouthwind on


value116's picture
Submitted by value116 on

Stay strong, Dusten Brown and Jeremy SImmons. You are walking in the light. You will win. Never ever give up! Your courage is an inspiration to many. Dusten, you are truly a trailblazer. The world must know that fathers who care about their children are a force to be reckoned with. Dusten and Jeremy, you have the love and admiration of your children forever.

romany's picture
Submitted by romany on

To Two Bears Growling:

I completely agree with your lament about the lack of commitment. In my 60 years on this planet I have witnessed a lack of commitment even when the parents have entered into a legally binding relationship. That is a human failing that has plagued all of us for thousands of years. What we have here is an industry that has taken advantage of such situations for its own profits. When you read the propaganda side by side with the facts, you realize just what is REALLY going on.


Terry Achane, a married father, was nearly deprived of a relationship with his daughter because his wife ran off and placed their child for adoption - claiming that he had abandoned her and she did not know where he was. The truth - he was stationed in South Carolina and could have been reached at any time.

Mothers (single or married) have been told that their babies were stillborn - while the child was secretly adopted.

A coalition formed by many of the actors in the "Baby Veronica" case is trying to repeal ICWA and their website is full of stories from ADOPTIVE families about how ICWA nearly cost them "their" children.

The adoption industry thrives on the public perception of adoption as ALWAYS being a good thing - "saving" a child from a life of poverty and abuse. The problem is that an older abused child is not readily "marketable" to would be adopters who had their hearts set on a newborn - even insisting on being in the delivery room.

Adoption is no longer about finding a home for a child who needs one. It is pure supply and demand. Demand is high for womb-wet infants but supply is limited. This has given rise to aggressive outreach to vulnerable expectant families. Recently, a pro-adoption organization has looked into middle school programs that would promote the idea of adoption to "potential future birth mothers" - young girls who were not pregnant but could be "primed" into considering adoption should they find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine talking to your young son or daughter about love, commitment and responsibility, and adding that should there be an unfortunate situation in the future - the "loving option" would be to give that child to strangers.

This is the same propaganda that launches a smear campaign against any natural parent who refuses to just roll over. Instead of saying "we need to make sure that all adoptions are ethical and that no child is deprived of a relationship with a fit, loving and willing natural parent" - adoption agency spin tells us about how the would be adoptive parents only wished for "a child of their own".

TPR is said to be the death penalty of Family Law. Is it really in the child's best interests to be severed from his or her fit, loving, willing, natural family and sent to live with genetic strangers for ANY reason? Why should fraud on the part of the facilitators be allowed to stand as the foundation for all that came after?

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on


I appreciate you taking the time to read what I had to say my friend. I agree with what you have said as well. As an elder & someone who has seen much happen on Turtle Island there is MUCH going on that is not good when it comes to those trying & some who succeed in buying our young ones from these foolish girls through all sorts of gifts & promises.

It is wrong of these girls to be deceitful & by-pass the fathers of these children or family members who want these babies & are qualified, decent people who are able to raise them in a loving & stable home.

The lawyers & rich families who are buying or trying to buy our children need to be told in no uncertain terms that we are on to you folks. Our children are NOT for sale for any amount of money. They are our future!

There is a reason many times these folks have not been blessed with children. The Creator will not bless those who are unworthy of children until He sees they change their ways & start living in a good way.

Wealth does not improve people many times. It just brings out the bad side & magnifies it in people. Wealth without wisdom many times brings heartaches & pain into ones life like they cannot imagine.

Mirah Riben
Mirah Riben
Submitted by Mirah Riben on

Child trafficking for adoption goes way beyond the borders of Oklahoma. It is not just an Indian issue. Fathers' rights are being usurped everywhere in this nation, MOST OF ALL in Utah. Children are being taken by deceit, deception or kidnapping worldwide to meet a demand in a mega-billion dollar a year corrupt industry with virtually no oversights! It's the world west and children are a highly sought-after commodity! Read:

Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

MissGreen's picture
Submitted by MissGreen on

It is awfully unfair to compare Dusten Brown to Jeremy Simmons. They are nothing alike. Simmons has been looking for the child. Brown did not. I also think it is unfair to compare Tarbox to Maldonado. They are not even close. Tarbox (from what you are reporting) is on the run. Conversely Brown has always known where Maldonado was. Maldonado never "disappeared". While it might be true that Tarbox (I don't know that case) refused any contact or financial help from Simmons, Maldonado was never offered the same. She refused a marriage proposal, that is all. No other assistance was offered by Brown. Simmonns, unlike Brown, seems to have had true concerns for a newborn, where Brown did not. To compare these cases is absurd.

SariahMazur's picture
Submitted by SariahMazur on

I feel for Mr. Simmons and it sounds like he has a legitimate "thwarted father" defense, and likely has a state-law right to object to the adoption of his child. But what does this have to do with the Veronica case? Every single court that looked at Veronica's case (even when Mr. Brown won custody) concluded that his thwarted father story was not credible, and that he abandoned baby and mother knowing perfectly well how to contact them. Irresponsible journalism; at least acknowledge the facts as found by every court (including the US Supreme Court!). It might play to this audience, but the whole "birth mother is evil" theme does not hold up against scrutiny.

hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on

Mirah, thank you for the reminder that child snatching of non-orphans from parents has now become an international sport. I was not familiar with David Smolin who you mentioned. The link you posted seems to need the right case sensitivity, I found his site spelled this way

So he writes about international adoption abuses and fads. The 2012 article there is very interesting. In it was a link to this article which was also informatiive:

Thanks again for making us aware of these discussions taking place elsewhere.