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Macomb County mom at center of FBI probe agrees to stop doing adoptions

Posted: 4:50 PM, Jan 14, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-14 17:32:39-05
Macomb County mom focus of FBI adoption probe

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators were the first to tell you how a Macomb County mother is charged with federal wire fraud.

On Monday, the state of Michigan took Tara Lee to court for working as an unlicensed adoption worker where Lee’s attorney agreed to a permanent injunction.

Also, Monday, an attorney who has been in touch with adoptive couples who say Tara Lee charged them thousands of dollars to be matched with birth moms and babies and who didn’t exist told the 7 Investigators that there may as many as 140 families across the United States impacted.

Lee, 37, promotes herself online as an adoption worker but the state of Michigan has twice wanted her to stop operating as “an unlicensed child placing agency.”

The FBI raided Lee’s New Haven house back in November, and families across the U.S. have been calling the 7 Investigators with stories of pain and financial devastation after failed adoptions.

The FBI has a hotline set up if you have information about Tara Lee: 313-965-2227.

“It’s heartbreaking, because I’m surrounded by all this baby stuff and it doesn’t have an owner,” Stacey Markley told us back in December.

On Friday, a federal criminal complaint was unsealed, charging her with federal wire fraud.

As part of a separate case, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services wanted an injunction against Lee.

The state started receiving complaints about Lee and her business “Always Hope Pregnancy Center” back in 2015. At the time, they determined Lee was providing adoption services without a license and she was told to stop.

The state got another complaint in 2018 after Lee arranged an adoption with a birth mother from Detroit and a couple in Wisconsin.

Lee did not show up to face the judge in Macomb County Circuit Court Monday, but her attorney did appear, and he agreed that Lee will stop working on adoptions.

Assistant Attorney General Chantal Fennessey told Judge Diane Druzinksi that Lee agreed that “she can’t do any referrals, no matching, no collecting money, she needs to comply with the licensing rules, she won’t violate the adoption code.”

Fennessey also told the judge that Lee “will provide a list of individuals who have paid money to her… for services. She will provide their names, addresses, and total amount paid. To the extent possible, Tara Lee will provide a list of birth mothers who she has worked with and who are expected to give birth in 2019.”

If Lee fails to comply, she could be held in criminal contempt and would have pay attorney fees for both sides to return to court.

After the hearing, Lee’s attorney Sanford Schulman told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo that his client was merely acting as an adoption “coach.”

“Coaches don’t have to have a license,” said Schulman. “We’re going to go through the discovery and address it piece by piece, but as to her role, she did not have to have a license to do the activities that she was involved with.”

Lee used to refer adoption clients to attorney Talia Goetting who says she’s relieved Lee is being shut by the state.

“Did you not have any idea that that was going on,” Catallo asked Goetting.

“We had no idea,” said Goetting. “She was able to dupe everybody. Doctors, lawyers, [some of the] victims are lawyers. I believe now it’s up to 140 families – that’s the number I was last given. Adoption agencies referred people to her, consulting companies referred people to her – these were people that were vetted and paid specifically to vet to prevent adoption scams, and they referred these adoptive parents to Tara.”

Goetting also disputes that Lee was a “coach.”

“She is clearly minimizing her role, as a matter of fact when Mr. Schulman talked to you before, he said she facilitated adoptions, she got paid for it, and that was legal in the state of Michigan. And if you look up the laws in the state of Michigan only licensed attorneys and adoption agencies licensed by the state are allowed to facilitate adoptions and get paid for it,” said Goetting.

A group of adoptive families who say they lost thousands of dollars to Tara Lee but asked not to be identified released this statement to the 7 Investigators: “Due to the ongoing investigations by the FBI and the State of Michigan, the former clients of Tara Lynn Lee, Always Hope Adoption and Pregnancy Center (and other affiliated agencies) have no comment at this time.”

If you have information about Tara Lee or this adoption probe, please email Heather at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473