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Colo. Father Not Giving Up on His Lost Son

February 11, 2006

VERONA, N.J. (AP) _ David Archuletta says he knew his former girlfriend was pregnant in 2001, but she told him the baby was stillborn. More than a year later, she told him the truth _ that she had given birth after traveling to New Jersey from their home in Colorado, and turned over the baby for adoption. Ever since, Archuletta has been fighting for custody _ his efforts stymied by what state officials now say was a mistake by the adoption agency involved, Children of the World.

``He looks just like me. I just want to be able to see my son,″ said Archuletta, who has Parkinson’s disease and lives with his mother in Pueblo, Colo.

An Associated Press review of hundreds of state documents shows the Verona-based adoption agency knew of Archuletta’s existence for nine months before it allowed the adoption to move forward. But, in violation of state law, it made no attempt to track him down, Gary Sefchik, Department of Human Services licensing chief, said in a letter to the adoption agency’s executive director in September.

``Children of the World didn’t do nothing to find me,″ said Archuletta, 46.

Veronica Serio, the executive director, would not comment. The state cited the adoption agency for failing to notify Archuletta, for not giving him the opportunity to surrender his parental rights and for withholding information from the state during an investigation.

Children of the World’s response to the citations is under review by the state attorney general’s office.

Under New Jersey law, adoption agencies must notify anyone who may be a child’s biological parent before the adoption process can be completed. The state also is obligated to search for a birth parent when an adoption agency is told one has been identified.

But state adoption investigators say the boy’s birth mother, Penny Sue Candelaria, first told adoption agency workers the father was unknown. Later, but still months before the adoption was completed, Candelaria sent a letter to the adoptive parents asking for more money for expenses and threatening to tell the child’s father about the adoption if the couple did not comply, according to DHS records.

Steven Sklar, an attorney for the adoptive parents, notified Serio of the letter nine months before the adoption was finalized, but she did not follow up on the information, according to DHS records. Sklar would not comment on the case.

In an interview with state investigators in 2003, Serio said she had only recently learned of the birth father’s existence that year, according to the records. But in an affidavit taken in December 2004, Serio wrote she had received the information in 2001. Serio also said that the father had failed to come forward within the required window of 120 days, and that the agency was not legally obligated to locate him, according to state records.

State officials say Serio’s interpretation of the law was wrong.

``Your agency’s explanations for failing to reach out to the birth mother after receiving information that she knew how to contact the birth father are unacceptable,″ Sefchik wrote in the letter to Serio in September.

Gary Skoloff, a New Jersey adoption attorney not involved in the case, said Archuletta may have a good chance of getting the adoption overturned if he takes his fight to court. Archuletta said he has no money to pay an attorney.

``It is clearly a fraud on the biological father,″ Skoloff said. ``The agency should have notified him. It’s a gross violation of due process.″

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