(WXYZ) — A Macomb County mother at the center of a national adoption fraud scheme is claiming she’s innocent despite a guilty plea in the case that landed her behind bars. Tara Lynn Lee is serving a 10-year prison sentence at the Aliceville Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama.
- Is justice being served? Victims claim Macomb County mom involved in adoption fraud scheme is duping system
Federal prosecutors say Tara Lynn Lee took in $2.1 million as part of a nationwide adoption fraud scheme that impacted 160 couples in 24 states. They say Lee spent some of that money on luxury items and jewelry, including Rolex watches, shopping sprees to Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton.
Lee admitted as part of her plea deal that she made up fake birth moms and told adoptive couples that babies had died when they never existed.
But now Lee is asking the court to vacate, set aside or correct her sentence.
“She was just continuing her manipulation even though she’s sitting behind bars,” said Kyle Belz-Thomas, who was a victim of Lee’s. Belz-Thomas and his husband Adam says Lee’s attempt to get out of her sentence is traumatizing.
“The band-aid gets ripped back off, and we have to face it again. We have to have those feelings and that pain, and the fear, and whatever emotion it was that we were feeling just keeps coming back, over and over again,” said Adam Belz-Thomas.
In her hand-written motion, Lee alleges her lawyer should have let her go to trial rather than take a plea. In Lee’s plea agreement, she waived her right to an appeal. In the motion, Lee says she “never saw the evidence and simply went on counsel’s word alone. Based on Lee’s knowledge of her conduct and counsel willingness to have her enter a plea to an offense that she did not commit constituted a plea that was not entirely voluntary in nature.”
Lee writes that she’s innocent, and that “no jury of her peers would have found her guilty. The alleged victims in this case were not taken advantage of by Lee.”
“She’s still lying,” said Teresa Matheny about Lee’s motion.
“I’m somebody who believes anybody can change – anybody but her,” said Michael Matheny.
The Mathenys say the adoption of their son that should have cost $20,000 cost closer to $60,000 because of Lee’s lies. They also discovered Lee had not given their son’s birth mom the money promised to her. They refer to Lee as a “monster.”
“I was very upset when I first heard about it,” said Cortney Edmond about Lee’s motion. “Everything came rushing back and I felt like it was another slap in the face.”
Edmond also says she lost thousands of dollars trying to adopt through Lee, and had her heart broken repeatedly.
“The trauma is still very real,” Edmond told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo during a recent interview. “We had two fails with [Lee], we met both of the babies. We were there for the birth. To have a failed adoption is one thing, but to also have those babies in your arms and name them, and love them-- just to have them taken away again, that’s traumatic. It’s like a death for me.”
Other couples who were matched with babies who never existed say they are still devastated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward prosecuted Lee. She has responded to Lee’s motion by asking the court to make sure Lee understands that if she persists in claiming her lawyers were ineffective, she’ll have to waive her attorney-client privilege.
The 7 Investigators reached out to attorney Margaret Raben, who has been appointed to represent Lee in her efforts to have her sentence vacated or set aside.
Raben said she has agreed to represent Lee, and has contacted her but has not yet been able to talk to Lee about the case because of some communications limitations with the prison facility. She said Lee has a constitutional right to file the motion.
The 7 Investigators will continue to follow Lee’s attempts to have her sentence set aside.
Right now, her release date is in 2027 and she owes the victims $1 million in restitution.