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.
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.
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.
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 case.
The allegations against Kindrat have not yet been proven in court.
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.
“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,” she 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. ABC will officially cease operations July 30.
Kindrat resigned as a member of the board on Feb. 23, her husband Ron Kindrat told CBC in an email. Ron Kindrat, who is currently the chair of ABC’s board, said his wife continued to be involved as a consultant to the executive director.
Ramone Kindrat was no longer executive director or board chair when she was charged with fraud, Ron Kindrat said.
He said the legal matter is separate from ABC and has no bearing on the company.
Ron Kindrat said the agency’s closure was influenced in part by an inability to hire and train an appropriate executive director after “saying goodbye” to two others in the past year.
And he said the added stress on staff and resources brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the board to make the final “difficult decision” to close.
‘Where’s the money?’
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.
“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.
“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
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.
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 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.
“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.”