Ringing Up Baby

Cashing in on the adoption biz is easy in Texas, where lax rules let almost anyone play. Take Jennalee Ryan, for instance...

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.

In some states, adoption advertisers and facilitators can make lots of money off birth moms and adoptive parents.
Mark Greenberg
In some states, adoption advertisers and facilitators can make lots of money off birth moms and adoptive parents.
Jennifer Potter or Jennalee Ryan—figuring out her adoption business is as hard as pinning down her name.
Jennifer Potter or Jennalee Ryan—figuring out her adoption business is as hard as pinning down her name.

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, whom we'll call Max, was 4, 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 4-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, whom 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 six 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."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help