Newsweek - A tale of twin babies
January 29, 2001

An adoption gone bad has caused an international scandal -- and heartbreak for two anguished families.

The way the London tabloids told it, the story of how two adorable, U.S.-born infant girls got to Britain was a shocking tale of baby-selling on the Internet--even Tony Blair got into the act, saying he found this type of e-commerce "absolutely deplorable." He had a point, since large sums allegedly changed hands when the twins, Kiara and Keyara Wecker, were offered for adoption. But the real story was an escalating custody battle between two couples, one British and the other American, who seemed equally desperate to make the little girls their own. To make matters worse, the girls' birthmother last week announced she wants them back, turning a perplexing case into a three-way struggle that seemed to defy fair resolution.

At the weekend, anyway, the twins themselves were in the care of social workers in Wales--taken from their British adoptive parents, Alan and Judith Kilshaw, while authorities investigated the situation. The facts are complex. The girls' American prospective adoptive parents, Richard and Vickie Allen of Highland, Calif., had Kiara and Keyara in their home for about two months last fall. They signed a preadoption agreement with the babies' birthmother, Tranda Wecker of St. Louis, and agreed to pay $8,500 in fees to the adoption facilitator, a San Diego woman named Tina Johnson. Then came a disagreement over legal details and money, and the Allens stopped payment on a $2,500 check. Wecker asked to see her children one last time. According to Richard Allen, she and Johnson picked up the girls and disappeared. The twins were handed over to the Kilshaws in San Diego. The Kilshaws--who reportedly paid Johnson more than $11,000 in fees--then drove to Arkansas, where they adopted the babies in a court hearing, later renaming them Belinda and Kimberly.

Anguished at the loss, the Allens took their complaint to authorities. Now, the FBI is investigating the transaction as possible Internet wire fraud. The Allens also hired a lawyer, John Giffen, who defends the transaction. Giffen says the Allens "weren't buying a baby. They want other children and they're trying to do it the proper way. And so did the Kilshaws--they didn't do anything wrong." Giffen says he has been in touch with Tranda Wecker and her ex-husband and now hopes to "sit down [with them] and decide what's best for these kids." He said the insinuation that Wecker "has been selling her babies is untrue. As far as I know, she has not accepted money at all." Wecker denied taking money. Johnson told a British reporter she has "done nothing wrong."

The larger question is whether the Internet itself is somehow to blame--and the answer, according to most U.S. experts, is no. Adoption scams have been around for years, and while unscrupulous operators are certainly using the Web, reputable agencies see it as a powerful tool to connect needy kids with new families. "I think what happened to these folks is horrendous," said Steven Kirsh, an Indianapolis adoption lawyer. "But there are always bad apples. If adoptive parents will use reputable practitioners, this kind of thing won't happen."