By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Five couples claim an international adoption agency that promised each a baby from Guatemala scammed them in a "bait and switch" scheme and are suing under a federal law more often used against mobsters and drug dealers.
The lawsuit against Main Street Adoption Services, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was filed under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five couples from Illinois, Minnesota and Louisiana, accuses the agency and three individuals of conspiring with one another "for the illegal purpose of committing fraudulent adoptions through a bait and switch scheme, an adoption scheme that offered illusory promises."
The prospective parents in 2007-2008 spent up to $25,000 each for adoptions that have not yet been completed, and may never be, the lawsuit said. The couples suffered humiliation, outrage, indignation, sleepless nights, and severe emotional distress, court documents said.
Neither the defendants nor their lawyer could be reached for comment on Wednesday. A lawyer for the couples declined comment.
In each case, the promise was that a young child was awaiting the couple in Guatemala. But in each case, things went wrong, even after the couples had traveled to Guatemala to meet the children.
In one such case, in 2007, a couple was assured that they would be meeting their new daughter, Madeline, at a hotel in Guatemala. By that point, they had paid $12,500.
Nobody showed up at the hotel with the child, and they received a call from the agency saying the birth mother had reclaimed Madeline 11 days before they arrived in Guatemala, the lawsuit said. They were "heartbroken, devastated and appalled," according to court papers.
The couple then quickly fell in love with a second child, the suit claimed. But eventually, that adoption also fell through. By then the couple had paid over $25,000.
The suit demands the adoption agency pay each couple triple the amount of their losses as well as cover court costs and damages of more than $75,000.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Bohan)