- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

State, local and federal authorities closed down a baby-for-sale ring operating out of Laredo, Texas, but a top prosecutor said they wouldn't know for some time how many were involved.
"The victim list could climb to dozens, or even hundreds," said Roberto Balli, Webb County first assistant district attorney, of last week's arrests.
"One thing is for certain," Mr. Balli told The Washington Times. "There will be more arrests. We've seen only the tip of the iceberg." By week's end, many questions had arisen about the validity of adoptions over the past several years.
Mr. Balli said widespread publicity had brought many calls to his office about similar instances. Two Austin TV stations had told him they had undercover film footage of such activity from more than four years ago.
Maria Dolores Bondoc, 53, of Laredo was jailed, charged with illegal sale or purchase of children, illegally harboring aliens and helping illegals cross the border.
Advertisements were placed in the popular Mexican tabloid "Fama" over the past few months.
"Pregnant?" asked the ad. Under a picture of an obviously troubled female, the readers were urged "to give the opportunity to other loving parents who want to adopt."
The indictments say that the ad put pregnant women in contact with Mrs. Bondoc, a Laredo representative of AAA-Alamo Adoption Agency of San Antonio.
Those who answered the ad were told they would be given money or jewelry and told to make their way to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where they would be met by a representative of Mrs. Bondoc.
To get the women into Laredo, authorities charge, Mrs. Bondoc would often pull them across the Rio Grande in inner tubes. Then she would take them for medical care and delivery.
Many were in their last trimester of pregnancy, said one Webb County officer.
The scheme began unraveling in August when three women complained to Daniel Hernandez Joseph, the Mexican consul in Laredo, that they had either not received the promised money or had been threatened when they changed their minds about giving up the children.
The consul said one girl was threatened while she was still in the hospital when she said she would return the money and keep her child. "She was told things" such as "'Sorry, you signed already. It is not an option,'" said Mr. Hernandez Joseph.
State laws allow adoption agencies to pay any costs connected to the pregnancy rent, utilities, maternity clothing, food, transportation to the hospital and medical costs.
But, said Geoffrey Wool, of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, "cash payments that are not documented, things that are not for the benefit of the baby or extravagant entertainment or comforts" are not in the allowable category.
Ron Prince, a lawyer for the San Antonio agency, delivered a statement to the San Antonio Express-News after the arrests. It said in part:
"There has been no evidence brought to our attention that suggests she had committed any wrongdoing and Alamo Adoption Agency believes she will be exonerated of all charges.
"We regret that some of our governmental employees have made such serious accusations based on what appears to be questionable statements by innocent young women."
Mrs. Bondoc is being held on $50,000 bond on the federal charges and $1.8 million on state charges. Arrested along with her were two daughters, Alda Mae Nishiyama, 33, who was charged with harboring an illegal alien, and Zenia Bondoc, 23, charged with felony possession of heroin.
One Webb County officer said at least 10 women, mostly from Mexico but some from Honduras, have given statements to authorities.

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