Couples in 4 states say Carolina Beach woman played on adoption dreams
This article was posted on StarNews Online.
CAROLINA BEACH — A Carolina Beach woman accused of promising to allow several families to adopt her unborn child in order to fleece them of cash was skilled at manipulation, according to the people she victimized.
Wendy Mae Jenkins George, 37, is being held in the New Hanover County jail on four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. She was arrested Feb. 22 after at least two people contacted the Carolina Beach Police Department to report George’s alleged scam. Her bail is set at $500,000.
Since the news broke, more than 20 potential victims from across the nation have been in touch with investigators, New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said.
Officials believe George not only lied about putting her unborn child up for adoption — they’re convinced she wasn’t even pregnant.
Caught up in the con game were Keith and Eric Hutcherson of Atlanta.
For two years the couple had been actively looking to adopt a child, so when their agency contacted them Feb. 18 and said there was a pregnant woman in North Carolina with a baby due in March, they were thrilled.
Before long, Eric and Keith were on the phone with “Wendy Jenkins” in Wilmington.
By the end of a pleasant 40-minute conversation, plans were made for the couple to leave the following morning for a six-hour drive to the Port City.
George even sent them ultrasound photos of the baby, with her name and a November 2016 date on them, Keith Hutcherson said.
“We were so excited,” he recalled.
Shortly after hanging up, however, George sent a text asking for help renting an apartment. She told the couple she only had one more night in the hotel she was staying at, but she’d found a place she could move into for $800.
The request didn’t immediately concern the couple. Keith Hutcherson said it’s not unusual for adoptive parents to contribute to the expenses of a birth mother.
“We said, ‘Yes, of course,'” he explained. “We told her that as soon as we got there, if everyone was comfortable and we were going to move forward, we could give her the $800 for the apartment.”
‘She played on my heart’
Meanwhile 40 minutes outside of Dallas, Kimberly Jorgenson, 53, and her family were preparing for the March 3 arrival of a new baby.
A month earlier and still reeling from the death of her grandmother who had lived with her for 33 years, Jorgenson found an ad posted in the For Sale section of the Dallas Craigslist.
A woman who said she was in North Carolina wrote that she’d decided to give up her unborn baby for adoption and she was looking for a family. To Jorgenson, the chance of looking on Craigslist for a used item and instead finding a baby in need of a home was divine intervention. She had no way to know that the same exact ad was posted on Craigslist websites in New Jersey, Onslow County and Wilmington.
“I sent her a reply and she got ahold of me and told me she was pregnant with a little girl,” Jorgenson said. The woman who responded said her name was Wendy Jenkins. “She said she was going to have an abortion, but she didn’t want to because she didn’t believe in abortion. She said she was glad that she found us.
“She played on my heart.”
Jorgenson convinced her daughter and son-in-law to give up their jobs and move from Nebraska to Texas so her daughter could help care for the new baby.
She and her husband bought a crib and began to stock a nursery. She found a rental home that would accommodate the extended family and new baby. She even picked out a name in honor of her grandmother — Khloe Grace.
She and George spoke frequently, Jorgenson said. And, soon enough, George was asking Jorgenson to send her money.
“She said she didn’t have any food or she was getting evicted,” Jorgenson recalled.
Once, she wired George $50 through Western Union. Another time, she sent $35.
The Texas grandmother admitted she ignored a voice in her head that told her this was too good to be true.
“When I started getting bad vibes, it was too late. I’ve already committed to this. I kept thinking, ‘I can give this baby a good home,’” she said. “Everything she said was so realistic. Why wouldn’t I believe her?”
‘She said all the right things’
By the time Hutcherson and Jorgenson came in the picture, Stephanie Stump had already been in contact with George for more than a month.
In mid-January, George — using the last name of Jenkins — contacted the Rockbridge, Ohio, woman on Facebook after seeing comments Stump had posted on adoption pages.
“She said all the right things,” Stump said. “She didn’t ask for money for a couple weeks. She asked if I had a lawyer and I do. She said she would give us all her info…. I even Googled her. I just didn’t know her last name was George.”
Stump, too, received ultrasound photos along with two photographs of an allegedly pregnant George. In one an obviously pregnant woman is taking a selfie in a mirror; in the other the same woman is sitting on a couch with an apparent boyfriend. The pictures later proved to not be of George.
The two talked every day, Stump said. George was so convincing, Stump explained, that the hopeful parents had even selected a name for the little girl, “Hazel Grace.”
The communication was so frequent, Stump said, that George often would confide in her.
“She said her ex beat her, knocked her front teeth out. She was afraid of him supposedly and she was hiding from him,” Stump recalled.
George also told Stump she’d been an escort, but stopped when her pregnancy started to show. Several escort ads can be found on various websites with George’s scantily clad photos attached. In one, she’s nude from the waist down.
George also confessed to Stump she had a warrant for her arrest for writing bad checks. No such warrant existed.
But it appeared George knew the jig was almost up. On the same day she was arrested on the adoption fraud charges, she told Stump she was in pre-labor and she asked Stump for $500 to buy a car and leave the state to be closer to the Stumps. She also claimed she was afraid of her violent ex, Stump said.
“I got really worried. I was afraid I would never hear from her again; or she may run into trouble with labor or delivery while driving. I told her about my concerns,” she said.
Then, George stopped responding to Stump’s messages.
‘…are you still wanting to adopt?’
On Feb. 10, Heidi Bessert in Aniwa, Wisc., received an unsolicited private message on Facebook from a woman named Wendy Jenkins: “Hi I am due in March with a girl are you still wanting to adopt?”
Bessert and her husband Jamie were actively looking to adopt a child. They’d created a Facebook profile specifically for that purpose, as well as posted on several adoption websites.
When Bessert responded, George sent along ultrasound pictures and actual photographs of herself posing in a mirror with her hand on her belly. Bessert believed that George, at 5-foot-3 and 210 pounds, was pregnant.
“She claimed she needed to find someone because she was due in three to four weeks,” Bessert said.
For adoptive parents, the search for a baby is grueling, Hutcherson said. There often are a number of false starts and crushing losses.
Bessert recalled seeking reassurances from George that her offer was on the up-and-up.
“I even asked her over and over…. I said, ‘I can’t believe this is real, there are so many scams out there, just promise me this isn’t a scam.’ And she kept saying, ‘This is real,'” Bessert said.
George even invited the couple to Wilmington to attend her next obstetrics appointment the following Wednesday, Bessert said. The couple jumped at the chance.
By Monday, Feb. 13, the certified nursing assistant and her computer tech husband were in their car on the 18-hour trip to Wilmington.
But halfway into the journey, Bessert found an email from George.
“She backed out,” Bessert explained. “She said she didn’t want to become attached to the adoptive parents.”
The news was crushing. But it was impossible to argue with George, Bessert said. Emotions are high during cases like these, and how can you argue when someone says they’re afraid to care? She and her husband stopped over in Atlanta before driving 14 hours back home.
Still, despite the cancellation, Bessert and George continued to talk. Through it all, Bessert said, George assured her the baby she was due to have in March would be theirs.
When George said she was being evicted and needed money for a moving truck and rent, Bessert sent $230 after speaking with a man claiming to be a mover. When George said she needed another $580 for rent, the Besserts sent that, too. When George asked Bessert twice to pay for Uber rides, Bessert said she found the request odd, but obliged it once anyway.
Then, on Feb. 16, George asked Bessert to send $250 to her using the name of Wendy Jenkins George. She said wanted to drive to Wisconsin to meet them. But by now Bessert was suspicious. She and her husband decided to visit an attorney the following day.
The lawyer had one conclusion.
“He said that it sounds like a scam,” Bessert explained, and he suggested she look up George’s name in the North Carolina prison records.
Late that day, those couple of computer clicks laid bare George’s scandalous criminal history.
N.C. Department of Correction records show that in 2012 George was convicted in New Hanover County of 16 counts of obtaining property by false pretense. A quick internet search also uncovered several stories that recounted how George, going by the last name of George-Rickman — and a man identified as her husband were posting listings for condo rentals on Carolina Beach and collecting money from vacationers. But there were no rentals. It was a scam. In 2014, George again was convicted of doing the same thing, this time at Wrightsville Beach.
One internet search led to another internet search and, before long, the Besserts were clear that they were being conned.
On Feb. 17, Bessert confronted George about her criminal history through messaging. George said she’d turned over a new leaf and denied she was lying to the couple. Bessert demanded proof. George promised they could speak to her doctor at the next visit. But the more Bessert pressed, the more George’s tenor changed.
“When I told her I was going to turn her in, she threatened to tell police I was trying to buy a baby,” Bessert said.
Then, Jamie Bessert sent a message. He told George she had until 2 p.m. Feb. 19 to get them their money back or police would be involved. When the deadline hit, the couple contacted George.
“She said, ‘I can’t come up with the money, just turn me in, I deserve it,’” Bessert recalled.
Back in Atlanta, hours before their road trip was set to kick off, Keith and Eric Hutcherson were giddy at the prospect of adopting George’s baby.
“We were very excited; we couldn’t sleep,” Keith Hutcherson said. “Then something clicked in my head — let me do a basic Google search.
“I just typed into Google ‘Wendy NC adoption scam,’” he said.
Immediately, Hutcherson found a 2009 thread on a surrogacy message board titled, “Beware of Wendy George-Rickman.” George allegedly had told people she was putting a baby up for adoption and told others she was willing to be a surrogate.
The discovery was jarring.
“I turned to Eric and I said — I think it’s a scam,” Hutcherson recalled.
When they asked George for identification, she balked. When they asked if she used the name Wendy George in addition to Wendy Jenkins, she said she did. The questions had spooked her, though, Hutcherson said.
“She said, ‘Things are getting weird. I don’t want to move forward with you.'”
Hutcherson next did a search of George’s name on Facebook. He found several messages on different pages where she’d posted about putting a baby up for adoption.
In turn, Hutcherson posted several of his own.
“Beware of Wendy Jenkins. She’s a scammer. Google Wendy George in NC,” they read.
Hutcherson said his husband, Eric, was irate.
“He said, ‘I’m calling the sheriff out there,’” Hutcherson recalled, “and sure enough he called and they called us back.”
‘My heart broke into a million pieces’
With her daughter and son-in-law already en route to Texas, Jorgenson was the happiest she had been since before her grandmother died. She’d raised four children of her own and 19 foster children, and was grandmother to 12. When she accidentally found the Craigslist ad, she said, she saw it as God giving her another job to do.
On Feb. 21, when George asked Jorgenson to buy her a bus ticket so she could come to Texas and have the baby, Jorgenson was even happier. But she never would buy that bus ticket.
By chance, yet again, Jorgenson typed George’s name into Facebook and happened upon the postings Hutcherson had just made.
She sent him a message. After learning all that Hutcherson knew, Jorgenson was shattered.
“My heart is crushed into powder,” she told him in a text message.
The following day, on Feb. 22, investigators with the Carolina Beach Police Department arrested George at an apartment she was living at, not on Old Dow Road like she’d told Stump, but on South Lake Park Boulevard. George was booked into the New Hanover County jail on one count of obtaining money by false pretenses. Three more charges were leveled against her in the coming days.
When Stump wasn’t getting a response from George, she worried she’d left town or had been arrested on the check charges, Stump said.
She began calling the hospitals and jails. Eventually, she spoke to a deputy at the New Hanover County jail who said George was in custody. The officer suggested Stump search the internet for George’s full name, and so she did.
“My heart broke into a million pieces when I found out,” Stump said. “I was worried to death about her and she didn’t even think twice about scamming me and others.”
Keith Hutcherson said he’s glad he was able to help stop a woman who was allegedly hurting so many. Stump and Bessert both said they were initially heartbroken and now they’re just angry.
But for Jorgenson, the news still has her reeling. She and her family had planned to be in Wilmington on Friday when George was supposedly going to have labor induced.
Now, the deeply religious woman is consumed by the thought that George may have actually been pregnant and aborted the baby Jorgenson called Khloe Grace. The thought of that abortion, along with all the upheaval in her family, is almost too much for her to bear.
“I feel so torn up over this. It’s like I’m losing my mind,” she said. “I haven’t been the same since.”
Internet’s impact on adoption
A 2013 study of the internet’s impact on adoption by the Donaldson Adoption Institute found wide use of the technology for positive outcomes, but also “increasing commodification of children and commercialization by for-profit brokers, while enabling greater exploitation of pregnant women considering adoption for their babies and of adults seeking to adopt.”
At the core of the report — “Untangling the Web II: A Research-Based Roadmap for Reform” — is a survey of more than 2,000 adoptive parents, adopted individuals, birth/first parents and adoption professionals.
Among the findings: “A significant increase in the commercialization of adoption and the reach of for-profit adoption brokers who advertise/market aggressively; in addition, respondents reported greater risks, including misleading promises, fraud, and enticements for women to surrender their babies.”
April Dinwoodie, chief executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, said, “There are not a lot of formal statistics that address this specific issue of fraud, however anecdotal evidence does exist to indicate that at times this can unfortunately happen. ”
Dinwoodie said the bigger issue is “the need for education and preparation for professionals and parents as well as stronger regulations surrounding advertising in adoption, in particular through the internet.”
She said some states, such as Illinois, have strong regulations and provide firm parameters about the nature and type of advertising related to adoption.
“DAI’s position is that even one case of fraud is one too many and these incidents remind us of the urgency to develop more rigor and uniformity in the standards that guide adoption practice,” Dinwoodie said.
So how can families seeking to adopt protect themselves?
- Do your homework. Most states require agencies and facilitators to be licensed.
- Don’t rely solely on the internet for research. Meet the agency or facilitator in person. Ask for documentation and references.
- Be skeptical if agencies or individuals say they have shortcuts.
- Hire your own social worker to interview the birthmother.
- For international adoptions, check with the U.S. Department of State for tips and more information.
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