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Former head of Alberta adoption agency charged with impersonating employee

The fraud charge against Ramone Kindrat is the latest development to surface in the troubles of Adoption by Choice, which had clients across the province. ABC shut its doors in May; families paying to adopt babies through the agency feel they have been left in the lurch.

Families left in lurch, demanding more accountability after company closed suddenly

Ramone Kindrat, the former head of Alberta adoption agency Adoption by Choice, is facing a fraud charge. (Adoption by Choice)

The former head of Adoption by Choice, an Alberta adoption agency that closed suddenly in May, is facing a criminal fraud charge, CBC News has learned.

Documents filed in Calgary provincial court show Ramone Kindrat, 55, was charged last December with fraud. It is alleged that Kindrat used an ABC employee's name and master's degree with the intent to gain advantage for herself in the form of more clients.

The charge against Kindrat is the latest development to surface in the troubles of the Calgary-based agency, which had clients across the province.

ABC shut its doors in May, announcing it would close permanently at the end of July. In a statement, the agency cited a decline in the number of birth parents seeking adoptions.

Clients waiting to adopt babies said they were devastated.

At the time of the alleged fraud in July 2018, Kindrat was the chair of the agency's board of directors and its executive director, a position she held for 10 years.

Kindrat, who is next due in court July 17, has not yet entered a plea. The charge against her alleges she impersonated ABC employee Nedra Huffey.

In an interview with CBC News, Huffey said she worked at ABC for more than four years under Kindrat as a registered social worker specializing in international adoptions.

At the same time Kindrat was running the agency, she was also operating YYC Counselling, a business that offered private counselling sessions to newly adoptive parents.

The criminal charge against Ramone Kindrat is connected to a private counselling business she operated called YYC Counselling. (YYC Counselling)

Huffey claims that in January 2019, she became aware that Kindrat had altered a receipt to a YYC client by taking off her own name and replacing it with Huffey's, allowing the client to claim the counselling services through insurance.

Kindrat is also accused of sending a copy of Huffey's master's degree in social work to the same client, passing it off as her own.

"I received a message from an extended health company who wanted to speak to me about some counselling services for a specific person," Huffey told CBC.

"But I'd never provided any counselling services personally or professionally. I didn't know who that person was, so that was pretty alarming."

Huffey confronted Kindrat over email later in January 2019 about the alleged identity theft, but says Kindrat denied it.

"It was frightening and very stressful," she said. "I often reported directly to her, so it took a while to think through what to do."

Raising the alarm

In July 2019, Huffey filed a complaint with the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW) about Kindrat's conduct. Huffey provided CBC with a copy of the college's response to her complaint, dated July 23.

Huffey and an ACSW investigator exchanged several emails in August and September 2019. Huffey said she and other social workers were interviewed as part of an investigation.

The fraud charge against Ramone Kindrat is the latest development to surface in the troubles of Adoption by Choice, which had clients across the province. ABC shut its doors in May; families paying to adopt babies through the agency feel they have been left in the lurch. 3:58

ACSW acting executive director Jody-Lee Farrah told CBC in an email she couldn't confirm or deny if the college had received any complaints about Kindrat or ABC. The complaints and discipline process is confidential unless and until a matter is referred to a hearing for adjudication. At that time, proceedings are open to the public.

Kindrat, meanwhile, continued to be involved in ABC operations. Huffey says she couldn't understand why that was being permitted to continue.

She said that by October 2019, she felt too uncomfortable to continue working under Kindrat at ABC and quit her job.

"I felt that if she had been willing to treat one of her employees as she did with me and one of her counselling clients as well, the way she had with the fraud issue, then there's likely more to be concerned about," Huffey said.

"I just didn't have that confidence or trust that her leadership would be good for the agency or the adoptive families we were working with." 

The same month, she filed a report with the Calgary Police Service. Kindrat was charged with fraud Dec. 17. The allegations against Kindrat have not yet been proven in court.

I just didn't have that confidence or trust that her leadership would be good for the agency or the adoptive families we were working with.- Nedra Huffey

In an email to CBC, Shamsher Kothari, the lawyer representing Kindrat, wrote that he and his client are currently dealing with disclosure issues and can't comment on the criminal case.

During a recent interview, Kindrat told CBC she's hopeful things will be sorted out in court, saying the criminal matter is separate from what happened at ABC and has no bearing on the company.

"I can tell you as a social worker of 33 years, this has been beyond devastating, and I will take full responsibility for the part I'm responsible for," Kindrat said. "I've always been a person of integrity."

Kindrat said she was no longer executive director or board chair when she was charged with fraud. She resigned from the board in February, but continued to be involved with the agency as a consultant.

Huffey said she twice shared her concerns with Adoption Services within Alberta Children's Services — first in November 2019, and again in January, after Kindrat had been charged.

However, she said she doesn't know if the ministry followed up on her concerns. She also doesn't know if anything came of the ACSW investigation into her complaint.

Former clients of Adoption by Choice have filed a lawsuit against the Calgary-based agency for breach of contract and misappropriation of trust funds. (David Bajer/CBC)

"I'd say there needs to be some big changes in the exercise of oversight or the policies or tools that Adoption Services has available to them in order to provide proper oversight to protect Albertans better," Huffey said.

Since ABC closed its doors in May, the agency has been operating behind the scenes to help clients tie up loose ends, including transferring to other adoption agencies.

Kindrat said she began to have health issues five years ago and decided to step aside as ABC's executive director last year. She said the agency struggled to find an effective replacement.

"I really think the job is just too big," she said. "You're giving your whole life. This is not a regular job."

Kindrat said the loss of two executive directors within months of each other was a major blow, especially as training can take years.

She said she wasn't prepared to go through that process again. That led to the decision to close, she said.

"We did it for as long as we could," Kindrat said. "I am incredibly proud of my team. I have never seen a group of women work harder, and put their lives to some degree on hold, to support finding homes for babies."

'It just makes me so angry'

Edmonton couple Jacqueline and Maria are still reeling from the agency's closure. CBC News has agreed to conceal their real names because they're worried it may influence their ability to adopt in the future.

The criminal charge against Kindrat has angered the couple, who are now demanding to know more about oversight of the agency. They estimate they've spent $10,000 on a process that's taken them nowhere.

Edmonton couple Maria and Jacqueline say they are devastated by the closure of Adoption By Choice; they fear it's too late to start the adoption process again. (Craig Ryan/CBC)
 

"It just makes me so angry," Maria said. "I mean, she was criminally charged, and yet, nothing was done. How are you OK with allowing that to happen and allowing us all to suffer this?"

The couple began the adoptive process with ABC in 2014. 

"We really, truly believed that ABC was going to provide us with our family," Maria said.

However, they say the agency rarely contacted them with updates about their file or returned phone calls. They said they also noticed high staff turnover.

Since the agency closed, they say they haven't been told where their money is or if they'll ever get it back.

"We understood it was supposed to be kept in a trust," Jacqueline said. "The money shouldn't be gone. That money should be returned to the families. We have no idea what's going to happen."

We really, truly believed that ABC was going to provide us with our family.- Maria

Kindrat, however, said couples signed a document when they were put on the active adoption list that said fees paid for services are non-refundable.

"Unfortunately  if you've only been on the list for a year, you're going to feel like, 'Oh my God, I've lost all those funds,'" she said. "But those funds were to keep the operations going. There's no breach of contracts. Anything we owe anybody is being paid."

Kindrat said she has asked for a third-party audit of ABC's finances once the company ceases operations. 

In total, 90 families across the province were affected by the closure of ABC.

CBC News has learned more than a dozen couples have filed a lawsuit against ABC, claiming breach of contract and misappropriation of trust funds that were to be used for the provision of adoption services.

"When people are hurt and angry, they need to feel that they are pushing back," Kindrat said. "I know that the grief and the loss and the anger that the couples are feeling should not be minimized, that it's real, and I wish it could be different."

Government responds

Adoption agencies in Alberta are licensed by, and accountable to, the minister of Children's Services. Agencies must meet regular reporting requirements.

In a statement, Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said she had no concerns about the agency. "ABC had been operating under a conditional licence and an audit found no concerns regarding their financials," the statement said.

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the ministry is planning an extensive review of all adoption-related legislation and regulations in Alberta. (Rick Donkers/CBC)

Children's Services didn't explain the terms of the conditional licence, when the ministry last looked at ABC's finances, or what oversight was in place.

Schulz did point out that newborn adoptions have been declining in Alberta for years. With that trend expected to continue, she said Children's Services plans to conduct an extensive review of all adoption-related legislation and regulations in Alberta.

Schulz also said she's reached out to the province's three remaining adoption agencies to explore all options for transitioning the ABC families' files for those who choose to transfer.

Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP critic for Children's Services, is demanding an internal investigation.

NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi is calling for an internal investigation into what Children's Services knew about how ABC was being run. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

"We know now the ministry was aware of some of this information," said Pancholi, who has written Schulz two letters on behalf of affected families. "We know that former employees as well as some prospective parents were sending information to the ministry raising questions."

Pancholi said she's asked Schulz to look into what Children's Services knew about what was going on at ABC and whether the ministry should have considered suspending or cancelling its licence.

'Destroyed our lives'

These are emotional times for Jacqueline and Maria, who met in 2012 and married earlier this year. Now in their mid 40s, they worry about ever being able to adopt a child.

"This was kind of our last resort," Maria said.

It's especially devastating for Jacqueline, who is an only child.

"It's really sad to know that when we're done, our personal legacy is done with us. We don't have anyone to instill our beliefs in, our hopes for life, and that's sad," she said.

"And these guys — ABC — were a big contributor to causing that fate for us.

"It's not enough to tell our sob story; I want action. I want accountability for all the grief they've caused us. It completely destroyed our lives."

Maria and Jacqueline leaf through the adoption book they made for ABC to give to prospective birth parents. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

About the Author

Alicia Asquith

Host/Reporter

Alicia Asquith is an award winning journalist based in Edmonton. She is also the host and producer of the CBC Alberta television news on weekends. She's previously worked as a reporter and video journalist in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Venezuela.

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