Monday, September 28, 2020

Houston woman sent to federal prison for adoption fraud scheme

HOUSTON – The former owner of a child placement agency in Houston has been ordered to prison following her convictions on multiple counts in an adoption fraud scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI.

The Houston federal jury convicted Simone Swenson, 46, on two counts of mail fraud following a five-day trial Sept. 29, 2019.

Today, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal handed Swenson a 24-month sentence to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. At the hearing, the court heard from eight of 2o identified victims as well as an FBI agent who described Swenson’s common scheme and plans to defraud numerous adoptive families. In handing down the sentence, the court noted Swenson lied, concealed information and made false representations to vulnerable adoptive families and victims.  

"Simone Swenson took advantage of hopeful adoptive parents who have already been through a difficult journey,” said Turner. “She used these couples as her personal piggy bank and took advantage of them financially and emotionally. This was a seven year-long investigation for FBI Houston that focused not only on a 'poorly-run business', but on an individual whose greed and deceit forever scarred individuals who simply wanted to form a family."

Swenson owned and operated Sans Pareil Center for Children and Family Services LLC which was licensed to operate as both a foster care and child adoption agency. Swenson is no longer operating Sans Pareil following suspension of her license.

At trial, the jury heard Sans Pareil catered to adoptive families that desired to participate in domestic private (non-CPS) adoption program. From on or about January 2013 to on or about January 2014, Swenson defrauded numerous prospective adoptive families with the same birth mother, a scheme known as double matching. In addition to double matching, she obtained money and property by means or materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.

Testimony revealed Swenson double matched birth mothers who expected to have only one baby to multiple adoptive families. Once prospective family members wired money and/or mailed it into her accounts, Swenson would find a way, through lies and misrepresentations, to get out of the agreements. Such falsehoods included blaming the birthmother for changing her mind, adoptive families backing out of the match and/or blaming adoptive families for lack of funds in some instances.

The jury heard from six adoptive families who testified Swenson would contact prospective families about birth mothers but would not proceed until agency fees and expenses were paid up front. Swenson would then make promises for a successful adoption. In reliance upon those false representations, prospective adoptive families hired attorneys and other adoption agencies, purchased airline tickets, booked hotel rooms, prepared and purchased items for the expected child’s nursery and transportation and incurred other expenses related to the prospective adoption.

Swenson was always available and responsive to prospective adoptive families prior to receiving agency fees. However, once she received monies from those people, she would become unavailable and would not return phone calls for long periods of time, if at all. When she did have communication with them, she would be brief, inconsiderate and provide vague information regarding the birth mothers and their delivery status.

In addition, Swenson rarely provided invoices or receipts to the adoptive families for their paid fees and expenses. When adoptive families would ask Swenson for proof of payment, she did not respond unless there was money to be collected.

Swenson charged each family member approximately $20,000 to $30,000 each.

Swenson attempted to convince the jury that she was negligent and ran a poor business but did not intentionally defraud the adoptive families. 

The jury did not believe those claims and found her guilty.

Swenson was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.