The Santa Clara County District Attorney is vetting a complaint from an east coast family claiming that a Gilroy man is illegally conducting international adoptions from his Valley Oaks Drive home.
Founder and operator David Avilla of Advocate for Orphans International – an organization that has coordinated adoptions and summer host programs for Ukrainian children for 11 years – says he is fulfilling a calling from God for children in need. Others say he is exploiting vulnerable people and operating on the fringes of the law.
AFOI connects Ukrainian orphans with American summer host families around the country who are possibly interested in adoption. If the family chooses to adopt, they are expected to use Avilla’s adoption services and pay AFOI’s adoption fees, which are about $2,000 to $2,500 per child.
“He is a snake,” said Jason from North Carolina who declined to give his last name.
The man and his wife adopted two Ukrainian children through Avilla’s services in 2010 and now allege that Avilla skated around some major issues in the process. Namely, the 9-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy adopted by the couple have serious mental health issues; something Avilla allegedly did not disclose before the adoptions were finalized. The family pursued adopting the girl without meeting her, and then decided to adopt the boy after meeting him during a summer trip to Ukraine. The family received just two pages of medical records for each child.
After spending about $50,000 in adoption-related fees to the Ukrainian government, including a $5,000 fee to Avilla for the “adoption facilitation,” the North Carolina family is now dealing with two children who struggle with issues far beyond the expertise of the new parents.
The couples’ adopted daughter is in an intensive live-in therapy program for children with severe mental disorders. When she finishes the one-year program, the family hopes to bring her home again.
“While this has been the most difficult thing we’ve experienced, these are our children now, and we love them, and we will treat them like our biological children,” the North Carolina man said. “But David Avilla shouldn’t be trying to deflect responsibility from himself.”
The family hopes that through their complaints, light will be shed on Avilla’s practice, causing it to close.
“You have to disclose all the information that you have about a kid to the family so they can make an informed choice. What (David) does is suppress negative information in fear that it will turn families away,” he said.
The family filed a complaint with the Santa Clara County DA’s office last month, pointing to Avilla’s unethical adoption practices. The family claims they know of others who have felt conned by Avilla, although they are the only clients of Avilla that have made an accusation to the DA’s office thus far.
Per protocol, the DA would not confirm or deny the existence of any case involving Avilla unless official charges have been filed.
Avilla, 58, and his wife Kerry, who is a records analyst, have adopted five Ukrainian children.
Avilla says the North Carolina family’s argument has no legal bearing. He never met the children he placed in the North Carolina home, and made the family sign a contract that clearly communicated the risks involved in international adoption. The contract that the adoptive family provided to the Dispatch confirmed this.
“My legal agreement has three to four clauses that indicate the family is aware of the risks of international adoption, that medical info is limited and can be incomplete,” according to Avilla, who says he has completed 10 to 14 permanent adoptions in the last two summers, most of them to families in Colorado and North Carolina. A quick Internet search of Avilla pulls up several links to blogs and websites that accuse the Gilroy man of fraudulent adoption practices.
“David Avilla has little respect for the law,” one website article begins.
Avilla denies such accusations and says these slanderous attacks have cropped up because of the spiritual battle he is fighting to place children in safe, loving homes.
Avilla is working with the DA to explain his side of the story, and said he is confident that once the DA understands the type of work he does and the challenges he has faced from undeserved accusation, he will be vindicated and ready to carry on with his work.
“When you do the kind of work we do, you put a target on your back,” Avilla said. “I will not leave the battlefield unless I am in a body bag or else I feel the door is closed and I have been relieved of duty. It’s hard when this kind of stuff happens, but we’ll just keep running around the track. But instead of running shoes, now we’re wearing combat boots and dragging 50 pounds.”
Still, the California Department of Social Services says the ground that Avilla operates on is legally shaky at best.
AFOI is not a licensed adoption agency in the state of California and Avilla claims it does not need to be.
His claim is true to an extent, since California allows for unlicensed adoption organizations to register as an “adoption facilitator.” The state lays out strict rules as to what adoption facilitators can and cannot do. For instance, facilitators can’t do anything in the adoption process other than help adoptive families make an initial connection with a birth mother. The adoption must be handed over to a lawyer or to a licensed agency from there.
But Avilla isn’t even licensed to do that. He was registered as an adoption facilitator in 2009 and 2010, but has since let that registration expire as he continues to handle adoptions. He claims his work does not fall under the category that would require him to pursue getting a license – even though he works with Ukrainian organizations and the Ukrainian government to find permanent American homes for orphans, and is involved in the process from start to finish.
Michael Weston, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services said that if Avilla is coordinating adoptions in California without being registered as an adoption facilitator or being licensed as an adoption agency, he is breaking California state law.
“If he is in fact handling adoptions without being registered, local law enforcement could arrest the guy or the DA could investigate,” Weston said. “If someone is breaking state law, that’s not something that this department has authority over.”
Gilroy Police Sgt. Pedro Espinoza said unless there is something that links Avilla to a crime in Gilroy, police would not likely look into this without prompting from the DA.
“It’s hard to say if we would purposely seek any business here in town on whether they have a license,” Espinoza said.
Weston said that, unfortunately, adoption is an industry with many pitfalls, and that adoptive parents need to educate themselves to ensure they are getting what they want out of an organization.
“We encourage people to check out the agencies they are thinking of working with to make sure their needs are being met before they sign a contract,” he said.
Although AFOI is not a registered nonprofit, Avilla receives tax-deductible donations through an umbrella nonprofit organization based in Virginia, called United Charitable Programs. UCF’s slogan is “Nonprofit benefits without the burdens,” and their mission is to sponsor hundreds of charities that do not have legal nonprofit status around the country by taking an 8 percent cut in their donations.
Avilla accepts donations through his website.
Although Avilla says that being the president and sole proprietor of AFOI is a full-time job, he says is not getting rich off the orphan industry.
Avilla filed for bankruptcy in 2010 according to court records, stating he made $42,000 a year through AFOI and claimed more than $1 million in secure and unsecured debts to 40 different creditors.
“I guarantee you, that was a personal bankruptcy and it was not from lavish spending,” Avilla said, pointing to the fact that both he and his wife drove 10-year-old cars at the time of his bankruptcy.
Avilla said he is “flabbergasted” by the things people are claiming about him.
“I was a salesman for 21 years selling software and hardware, and I never had the kind of problems with slander, misunderstanding and accusations that I’ve had since I’ve worked in adoption,” he said.