Nearly 60 families scammed by Orson Mozes’s adoption scheme will finally be getting a portion of the money they lost returned to them, almost two years after Judge George Eskin ordered the distribution.
Mozes was the subject of an Independent cover story in September 2009 after being sentenced for 17 counts of theft in July of that year to three years and four months in prison. He had been arrested for using a fake name in Miami, Florida, after being featured on the television show America’s Most Wanted. At the time of his arrest, he had roughly $300,000 with him, though it’s estimated he stole roughly $800,000 from 59 families.
After Mozes was sentenced, his ex-wife, Christen Brown, made a play for that cash, claiming she needed it in past child and spousal support. But prosecutor Paula Waldman argued that money should rightly go as restitution to Mozes’s victims. Eskin ultimately agreed with Waldman, and ordered the money distributed.
Brown appealed that decision, which held up the money. The District Attorney’s Office had already distributed about half of the $300,000 at that time, while the other half was in a bank account. Brown lost her case at the Court of Appeals, and the California Supreme Court declined to hear her the matter, exhausting her case and freeing up the money to go to the victims. “Christen Brown has no ability to get that money,” Waldman said.
The bank account was still under court order, however, until Friday morning, July 22, when Eskin signed an order to release the money. On Monday, the bank will write checks to 59 families, distributing just more than $167,000, based on percentages of the total that each family lost.
Mozes, who ran an international adoption agency out of Montecito called Adoption International Program, would string families along, promising them children he couldn’t provide, all the while asking for more money to make it possible. Families eventually realized they were being scammed, and approached the DA’s Office to look into the situation.
“This has been a long time coming and the victims have been incredibly patient,” said Waldman, who not only prosecuted Mozes but fought to have the money returned to his victims. “On a bright note, as a result of this painfully long appeals process, California now has published case law that states that restitution due to victims of crime take priority over back due child support when the seized monies were derived from a criminal enterprise. My hope is that this ruling will benefit future victims of crime for years to come.”
A lawsuit in federal court against Mozes and Brown filed on behalf of several of Mozes’s victims is still pending.