Mom and Daughter Reunite 34 Years After Adoption Scam

PHOTO: Sara Hudson and biological Kathleen Rhodes share a hug after being reunited. Rhodes who was forced into giving up the girl for adoption in 1977.
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Sarah Hudson, who was "sold" as a newborn in a New York baby ring that scammed adoptive mothers in the 1970s and 1980s, was reunited with her biological mother for the first time since her birth.

The Richmond, Va., woman was one of the first "Seymour Fenichel adoptees" to learn that she had been taken from her mother's arms in 1977 and handed over to an eager couple awaiting a baby.

"I am a black market baby," Hudson told the ABC affiliate WRIC 8 News team that accompanied her to Long Island to meet 53-year-old Kathleen Rhodes. "I was sold for all intents and purposes in a parking lot."

Hudson, along with her adoptive mother and husband, reunited amidst tears and lots of tissues on Aug. 7 in Miller Place, N.Y. Both said they had always loved each other -- even if from afar.

"Oh my God, the last time I saw you, you were like four days old," Rhodes told her daughter.

"But I did whisper in her ear when I was holding her, 'When you're ready, you come and find us.' I guess you heard my words," she said.

Each year, the Rhodes family celebrated Hudson's birthday on June 18 with a birthday cake.

"We've always known about her -- I've known for 10 years," said her sister Ashley, 26. "We've been waiting. We didn't know when she was going to come."

Rhodes ended up marrying the boyfriend who got her pregnant at age 18, so Ashley, Brittany, 24, Caitlyn, 23, and Taylor, 21, are all full siblings.

"I've never seen anyone who looks like me in my entire life, and I've always wondered where my eyes come from, why is my skin so tan," said Hudson. "These people look like my twins. There's no DNA test needed."

Watch the story in WRIC 8 News Richmond, Va.,on Thursday, Aug. 18.

After suffering a blood clot that almost killed her, Hudson struggled for more than a year to get details on her mother, whose name she knew -- Kathy Akeson.

Adoption records are closed in New York and 40 other states, and adoption advocates have been pushing to open records for just this reason.

"Here is an example of why honesty and openness in adoption is so critical," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Adam B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"When adoption is in the shadows, things happen," he said. "In the dark, you can't see what's happening and prevent it. We cannot treat women as baby carriers and babies as snow tires for sale to the highest bidder."

Closed records are a "relic of the past," said Pertman, author of Adoption Nation. "It's based on mythology and fear, and one consequence of maintaining the status quo is it allows people to hide in cases like this one."

In 1988, Brooklyn lawyer Seymour Fenichel, along with his daughter Deborah Greenspan and Harriet and Lawrence Lauer, were indicted on 144 counts of child trafficking and falsifying birth records, often coercing women to give up their babies.

His crude tactics included briskly handing off babies in parking lots or in quick exchanges in the doorway of a hospital elevator.

Birth mothers weren't allowed to look at or hold their babies after birthing them. Some families seeking to adopt spent thousands on what they thought were agency fees and never received a child.

The quartet found housing for pregnant women in group homes and often registered them in hospitals under fake names. Couples paid up to $35,000 in cash to secure a baby. They were often asked to pony up more to cover "maintenance" for the girls, who never got a penny.

Police were called when one adoptive couple paid but never received a newborn. In a 1990 plea deal, Fenichel was sentenced five years probabtion and 2,000 hours of community service. He died in 1994.

Rhodes had seen one of his ads in a supermarket newspaper. At the time, she was working at a Long Island bakery.

Her doctor, the father of a friend, made sure she had prenatal care. No one but her boyfriend Larry -- who would be her future husband and father of four more girls -- and two friends knew about the pregnancy.

Fenichel's accomplice -- a woman posing as a nun, "Sister Marie" -- hounded the girl to move into the city before delivery. But Rhodes' mother insisted the teen live in a basement apartment near the hospital, which is now St. Catherine of Siena, in Smithtown, N.Y.

Fenichel said that when Hudson turned 18 he would provide Rhodes with information to find her. He never did and Rhodes didn't want to impose on her daughter's life.

Kathleen Akeson Rhodes Promised Never to Hold Baby

Fenichel gave Rhodes $100 a month and paid for her medical expenses and rent. The teen was told the adoptive couple had waited nine years to have a child.

She promised him she would never see the infant after birth. But the teen couple held and fed the baby for two days, and so when she was discharged, the nun was waiting in the lot to grab the baby and jumped in a car with Fenichel.

Rhodes said Larry collapsed on the ground in despair. They were married in 1983 and said that baby Sara Michelle was never a secret.

In February, Rhodes' daughter Taylor took out a Facebook account for her as Kathleen Akeson Rhodes.

At the same time, Hudson suffered a life-threatening blood clot, and when doctors asked for her medical records and she didn't have any.

So her 29-year-old husband Thomas, a Virginia policeman, launched an 18-month search to identify Rhodes. Hudson said her adoptive parents, who were supportive, remembered the name Akeson.

Hudson then found the Facebook group, Seymour Fenichel Adoptees, which has 389 members, many of whom had reconnected with biological family members. With New York's records closed, they suggested several ways to conduct a search, including the public library.

The Hudsons pored over phone book records on microfilm and found Hudson's biological 81-year-old grandfather who was living in Florida.

After sending a message to Rhodes via Facebook, Hudson made a fateful call to the woman she was convinced was her mother and struck gold.

"My name is Sara and I know you don't know me," said Hudson, reassuring Rhodes it was not a sales call. "I was born in Smithtown in June of 1977."

"You were born June 18th. I know exactly who you are," said Rhodes, nearly cutting her off. "You need to know that I married your biological father and you have four full-blooded sisters."

"That's when I started crying," said Hudson.

"It's amazing, just amazing," said the Facebook group founder Rachel Bernstein, a 27-year-old waitress who is still looking for her own biological mother.

"A lot of people hire someone who costs thousands of dollars and her husband found her at the nearest public library and he was able to piece together her story," she said.

Bernstein is soon to be married and hopes to have children.

"Sara literally could have died," she said. "We deserve our medical history."

Additional reporting by Jessica Hopper.

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