Deborah Josephs cried all the way to central Pennsylvania. It was a long, difficult drive from Port Washington, N.Y., where her husband, Milton, had been hospitalized with a serious skin infection.
She didn't want to leave him, Josephs said, but she was also excited about where she was going.
"I left him there because I thought I would be picking up a baby," she said. "I didn't want to miss an opportunity of a lifetime for our family."
"Now," she said, "I feel like an idiot."
The Josephs are one of at least 16 couples who say they were duped into paying thousands of dollars into an alleged adoption scam run by Roslyn, N.Y., lawyer Kevin Cohen, the founder of the Adoption Annex, a now-defunct, nonprofit adoption services organization.
Prosecutors allege that Cohen, 41, who was arrested late last month, presented himself as a legal expert on adoption proceedings and collected between $20,000 and $40,000 from couples who believed the money would cover medical expenses for pregnant women who planned to give their children up for adoption. The Josephs say they handed over $60,000.
Those would-be adopted children, the Nassau County District Attorney's office said, didn't exist.
"This is among the most morally disgusting thefts I have ever witnessed as a prosecutor," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a recent statement. "He preyed on the emotions and the hopes of couples at their most vulnerable time."
Last month Cohen pleaded not guilty to felony charges of larceny and scheme to defraud. Cohen's lawyer, Matin Emouna, said he couldn't discuss any of the allegations against him until the district attorney's investigation is complete. Emouna said that Cohen had successfully arranged adoptions in the past, though he didn't know exactly how many.
Rice's office has compared the alleged adoption scam to a Ponzi scheme -- a pyramid scam in which early investors are paid from funds provided by new investors. In the adoption case, the district attorney's office spokesman Eric Phillips said Cohen had provided partial or complete refunds to some couples whose adoptions fell through using money provided by Cohen's newer clients.
But most of the couples, Phillips said, believed that Cohen would ultimately deliver.
They "held out hope that they were going to get a baby," he said.
The Josephs were among them.
Milton Josephs, 41, an elementary school teacher, and Deborah Josephs, 44, a human resources consultant, met Cohen in March 2009, Deborah Josephs said.
By then, the couple, who have a 6-year-old daughter, had spent more than two years trying to adopt a child. They placed advertisements in local newspapers across the country, looking for pregnant women who would allow the Josephs to adopt their children.
Some women responded to the Josephs' ads but would later change their minds, she said, choosing to give their babies to other couples or not to give them up at all.
"I would try to connect with these women, try to convince them we are the best couple in the world," Josephs said. "It never panned out."
In March, Cohen gave them new hope, Josephs said. He told the couple that he knew not one but two pregnant women who wanted to put their babies up for adoption, Josephs said.