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...

In January 2000, around the time she said she was working with Vincent Bugliosi on Inside the Criminal Mind, she sat down for a judgment debtor's exam, where she told lawyers all her aliases: Jennifer Potter-Clay, Jennifer Langlois, Jennifer Robinson and Jenna Ryan. (She would officially change her name to Jennalee Ryan a few months afterward, explaining in her petition that her "biological" father's and grandfather's last name was Ryan.) She also revealed all of her business interests, which included A Silver Spoon Adoptions, A Silver Spoon Productions, A Silver Spoon Portrait Studio, and Mirage Productions. Now the lawyers for TMP, the advertising agency that won the judgment against her, had to nail down her assets and which of her businesses were operated under which name.

Things did not go smoothly. After she had the chance to peruse the transcript of deposition for errors, she wrote the following on the first page: "Due to not using my prescription pills...I was untruthful in answering most of the questions that were asked of me throughout the deposition."

Therefore, Ryan first admitted, then denied, that she withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from A Silver Spoon Adoptions, much of which was split between herself and a "business associate" named Ricky Clay (it is not clear if this "Clay" has any relation to the alias "Potter-Clay"). Some of this money was used to lease video and camera equipment, ostensibly for Inside the Criminal Mind, as well as A Silver Spoon Portrait Studio. She also admitted, then denied, that Clay agreed to pay Ryan's way to a "TV production convention."

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.

Outraged by TMP's treatment, and claiming that her unjustified judgment was due to a "teeny little clause" in her contract, Ryan took out the domain name www.tmpworldwide.net and gave her side of the story.

She may have been off her prescription pills when she wrote her story, because there are some inaccuracies right off the bat. "First, let me introduce myself," she wrote. "My name is Jennifer Potter." But it wasn't. It was Jennalee Ryan. "I am a single mother of eight children." It is not clear whether she had already un-adopted Sandra and little gay Max.

After describing how TMP screwed her, she concluded, "I hope that my story does not resemble 'whining.' I have always been a hard worker and have never asked for or depended on anyone for help of any kind. I rose from a homeless teenager living on the streets to a person that is well-respected in the marketing community."

And why did she want to publicize her plight?

"To let TMP know that, if you are going to go public with a story," she wrote, "make sure that you give both sides."

"First let me introduce myself. My name is Jennalee Ryan, and I am an adoptive parent." The words appear on the Web site for San Antonio's Abraham Center of Life, beside a picture of Ryan cradling a pink infant wrapped in a blanket. The Web site is actually the province of two companies. The eponymous Abraham Center, with offices in Texas and California, is described as an "advertising service" that refers interested parties to facilities that can meet their needs for egg donation, surrogacy or embryo donation. The other business, alternately referred to as "A Abagails [sic] Silver Spoon Adoption" and the A-less "Abagails Silver Spoon Adoptions," is an advertising service for the adoption of full-blown human beings. At first, it appears to be just another crudely designed Web site for a fledgling business—a weird fledgling business, but innocuous nonetheless. What kicked up the creep factor was an announcement (it's actually headlined "Announcement") posted on the site around the fall of 2006, reading: "The Abraham Center of Life wishes to announce the opening of North America's first human embryo bank.

"We are THE ONLY SERVICE in the United States that offers egg donors, traditional and gestational surrogacy, frozen embryo donation AND adoption services," the text under the announcement read. "We are also unique in that we offer a program for shared egg retrieval cycles."

"First human embryo bank" and "shared egg retrieval cycles" were the key phrases here. While there were already thousands of extant frozen embryos held in cryobanks around the country, it appeared that Ryan wanted to create new embryos to keep on the shelf for future sale. And the Abraham Center's staff would help parties on either side through every step of the process — "finding a physician, medical screenings, psychological screenings, financial arrangements, and legal aspects of the agreements."

In actuality, there was no staff, other than Ryan's daughter Lisa Marie Robinson, who answered the businesses' shared 800 number. And there was no human embryo bank, since Ryan ran the business out of her house, with nary an embryo to be found. And there really was no California office, because the address listed for the Abraham Center of Life's office in Temecula, California, is actually the office of an Allstate insurance salesman named James C. Webb, who, in his spare time, runs a licensed adoption agency outside Salt Lake City. But we'll get to that later.

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