Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced Tuesday (Aug. 20) that former owners of an adoption agency found guilty of defrauding Arkansas consumers have been ordered to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution and penalties and to never do business in Arkansas again.
McDaniel sued Adoption Advantage Inc., a defunct Little Rock adoption agency, in 2010, accusing the company of making false promises related to the company’s ability to place a child with prospective parents. All the while, the company and owners Ed Webb and Donna Gail Hight were raking in thousands of dollars in upfront fees collected through their deception.
“Many Arkansas families who earnestly wished to adopt were left with despair and heartbreak after dealing with the defendants,” McDaniel said. “Some consumers gave their life savings to this company to adopt a child. Instead, these callous individuals stole their hopes, dreams and their money.”
A Pulaski County jury in April unanimously found that Hight and former Adoption Advantage employee Jacklyn Potter had violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Previously, the court had entered a default judgment against Webb and Adoption Advantage.
In his order issued today, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce described the defendants’ actions as “simply horrific.” He added that “words cannot adequately describe the despicable conduct,” of the defendants.
Adoption Advantage claimed to specialize in domestic infant adoptions. The company lied to prospective parents about the availability of birth mothers seeking adoptive parents for their infants. Prospective parents were asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees. Couples were asked to sign a contract and wire money to be able to “immediately” adopt a child.
Pierce ordered the defendants to pay a total of $850,749 in restitution to affected consumers. He assessed civil penalties of $370,000 to Adoption Advantage, Webb and Hight for 37 violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Potter was ordered to pay $2,000 in civil penalties.
The State was awarded $33,577 in fees and costs.
The order permanently prohibits the defendants from operating an adoption service in or from Arkansas regardless of the location of the prospective parents. It also prohibits the defendants from offering to facilitate adoptions for Arkansas residents even if the defendants choose to operate from outside Arkansas.