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Victims of Macomb mom's adoption fraud upset over prison pen pal plan

Posted at 11:36 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 23:38:40-05

(WXYZ) — A Macomb County mom is now serving a federal prison sentence after the feds say she duped people across the country out of babies that didn’t exist.

But even though Tara Lynn Lee is now behind bars, the victims of her nationwide adoption fraud scheme say they’re upset about what she’s still been doing.

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After a federal judge sentenced Lee to 10 years in federal prison, the dozens of couples who’d travelled across the country to face her in court back in 2020 said they finally felt vindicated.

“It felt like he understood what we went through and how terrible everything has been,” said Sarah Laughlin, a victim of Lee, after the sentencing.

The feds say Tara Lynn Lee took in $2.1 million as part of a nationwide adoption fraud scheme that impacted 160 couples in 24 states.

Lee admitted she made up fake birth moms and told adoptive couples that babies had died when they never existed.

But now many of those couples who lost thousands of dollars in the fraud scheme say they feel like Lee isn’t really being punished.

“It’s just like a kick in the gut for all of us – all the families over and over and over again,” said Teresa Matheny, who adopted through Lee.

Lee’s victims got upset after they discovered that the mother from New Haven was on the prison pen pal website, Wire of Hope.

“Oh, I’m angry,” said Cortney Edmond, who had failed adoptions with Lee. “I think it’s just another way for her to manipulate people, I think she can absolutely still get money through pen pals.”

Edmond and Matheny say they feel like all of the extra punishments Judge Bernard Friedman heaped on Lee as part of her sentence have not been honored by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

Friedman had requested that she go to a maximum-security prison, but the BOP has the ultimate say and is holding her in a low security facility.

The judge also required her to read all of the victim impact letters from the case into a recording device. That wasn’t done either until the 7 Investigators started asking about it last February. That process was not completed until September, after court staff in Detroit had to listen to the recordings to make sure she made no mistakes.

“Staff from the United States Probation Department listened to every tape, which took some time. We are satisfied that she has complied with the order of the court,” said Anthony Merolla, Chief Probation Officer for the Eastern District of Michigan in a statement.

Even though Lee’s judgment states “the Court feels she is dangerous to staff and inmates based on her history of lies, deceit, manipulation, with no remorse,” Bureau of Prisons officials say pen pal programs are allowed.

“He wanted no situation where she could manipulate, or scam any other people and I feel like this is just another way for her to do that,” said Matheny.

“What was the point of any of this if she can still do what she is doing from prison. She obviously isn’t going to stop,” said Edmond.

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After the 7 Investigators inquired about Lee’s pen pal profile with the website’s creators, they told us Lee had contacted them to remove her profile.

“Many studies have shown that prison correspondence has a significant impact on incarcerated people’s rehabilitation process and growth. With less recidivism, there will be less victims, which is why it is crucial to us at Wire of Hope to welcome everyone in our Prison Pen Pal Program,” said creators Sigrid and Elodie (no last names provided) in an email message.

Lee’s lawyer also told us that no pen pals have sent her money, and if any were going to, any amount above $75 in her commissary account would be used towards Lee’s $1 million restitution that she owes to her victims.

Attorney Margaret Raben also added, “All of Tara's mail (except attorney mail) is read by the prison before she gets it. Her outgoing mail and emails are also read before they go into the mail.”

Lee is now trying to have her conviction set aside, alleging her first three lawyers were deficient during her plea agreement and sentencing. Federal prosecutors have until early December to respond to Lee’s claims.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com