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The Danger of Baby Stealing

February 23, 2009 permalink

Nevada parents Tonya and Carey Fleck appear to believe adoption is an act of charity. Now they are under threat from the real parents of one of their children. They are quoted: "It's really hard, because it's not right. We didn't do anything wrong. We've tried to do everything right." Oh? Have they heard of receiving stolen goods?

The disclosure to the real parents occurred because the state keeps differing lies on their computers. The lies got mixed up.



Tonya and Carey  Fleck
Tonya and Carey Fleck stand in the room of one of children in their home. Tonya Fleck has adopted children, and because of mistake with the DA's office, her identity was revealed to the children's biological parents. They said one of the biological parents has made threats to kidnap the children and blow up their house.
Provided to the Reno Gazette-Journal

ID leak leaves parents in fear

BY MARTHA BELLISLE • • February 23, 2009

When Tonya and Carey Fleck's older children moved from home, the couple felt they were still young enough to have kids around, so they decided to adopt.

Warm-hearted with a large ranch and horses, the Flecks hoped to help children in need and deserving a break.

But six years and seven adoptions later, the Flecks are in fear -- for their lives and for the safety of their family -- after a series of mistakes by social service and county workers resulted in the disclosure of their identities, address and phone number to the birth parents of two of their children.

Simon Duenas, a birth father with a criminal history, allegedly threatened to kill Carey Fleck, blow up their house and kidnap the children, according to several restraining orders approved by the court.

Despite having no legal connection with the children, Duenas has continued to harass the family, in violation of the protective orders, Tonya Fleck said. He wrote a letter from prison to the birth mother in January saying he wanted to see his "babies ... real bad."

What began as a peaceful lifestyle has transformed into a nightmare because a county social service agency and the justice system let them down, Fleck said as she leafed through a pile of police reports and court orders scattered across her kitchen table.

A new criminal charge could keep Duenas locked up a bit longer, she said, but the future is uncertain.

"My children's lives are at stake," she said. "My life is at stake.

"It's really hard, because it's not right. We didn't do anything wrong. We've tried to do everything right."

Other adoptive couples and foster parents need not worry about a similar situation happening to them, said Herb Caplin, a deputy district attorney handling the civil lawsuit the Fleck's filed against Washoe County.

Part of the problem occurred because while the Flecks had a closed, no-contact adoption with the daughter, they later became foster parents for her brother, he said, both Duenas' children. That put them in contact with the Duenases, and that's why Wendy Duenas recognized the Fleck name given to the daughter, he said.

"This is a very unique set of circumstances," Caplin said about the Fleck case. "I've never heard of this happening in all the years I've been here. Human error is always going to happen, but realistically, the problems have been corrected, and it shouldn't happen again."

Kevin Schiller, the director of Washoe County Social Services, said the district attorney's office did nothing wrong.

"It was a computer interface error, and it's been fixed," he said.

First adoption

The Fleck's started their new family with the daughter. A "severe drug baby," she initially was sent to a foster family, but after a year, the Duenases, her birth parents, lost their parental rights, and the girl became their own, Tonya Fleck said.

Six children followed, ranging in age from 2 to 14. The Flecks also adopted an older girl who is the sister of one of the children but no longer lives at home, Tonya Fleck said.

Their house is a children's paradise with swing sets and monkey bars in the back yard and a garage converted into a giant play room.

All went smoothly for years as their family grew, until one day in 2006, when Wendy Duenas applied for welfare benefits and records showed the name of a child she did not recognize, Fleck said.

Wendy Duenas asked for an explanation from an employee with the Washoe County Family Support Division of the district attorney's office, according to court records. The worker pulled up that confidential file, which said the Flecks had adopted that child.

The worker gave that information to Wendy Duenas, who recognized the Flecks as the same family who was providing foster care for their son, Tonya Fleck said.

"Wendy and Simon found out at the end of November, but they didn't say anything right away," Fleck said. "They just kept asking about 'this little girl,' and 'the child the state stole from us.'"

The Duenases confronted her and demanded visitation rights, Fleck said.

Furious with news that her confidential information was disclosed, Tonya Fleck said she first went to the welfare office to get her daughter's name out of the computer, then went to the district attorney's office to demand an explanation.

She was told the problem would be taken care of, but it was already too late -- their identity was out. Months later, another major mistake, this time involving a police report, made the damage worse.

Schiller, director of county social services, said the problem with the disclosure of the Fleck name stemmed from an interface between computer programs in different agencies. The child welfare agency kept information in one system, and the agency handling Medicaid used another, he said. One was concerned with adoption information, and the other with child support issues, he said.

Unfortunately in this case, the child's information was not changed when it went from one program to the other, which allowed her legal name to show up in the welfare system, he said.

"This is the only case this has ever happened," Schiller said, adding that as soon as he learned about the problem, he had the system changed.

Schiller acknowledged, however, that the second mistake with the police report should not have happened.

Police report released

To keep one of her other children, Wendy Duenas was told she must leave the allegedly abusive father and go to a safe house, Tonya Fleck said. But the people at the house said Duenas couldn't stay unless she had proof of abuse, so Duenas asked a social worker to get a copy of her police report, Fleck said.

The worker called the Reno Police Department, which faxed an unredacted copy of the report containing information about the Flecks. The social worker gave the full report to Duenas, without blacking out the confidential material.

The report had the Flecks' address, phone number, social security numbers and other private data, Fleck said.

Wendy Duenas gave the report to Simon Duenas, Fleck said, and the threats began.

"Simon Duenas has call(ed) me three or four times over the last 30 days," Fleck said on a police report dated Dec. 27, 2007. "He call(ed) me a few times from jail."

In a police report filed Jan. 14, 2008, Fleck said he continued calling and "when I answer, he said he was going to blow up my house then no one will get the kids."

Many of the threats, including one to kill her husband, were left on the family's answering machine and have been recorded by the police as evidence, Fleck said.

The Flecks responded by filing for temporary protective orders, which twice became yearlong restraining orders after a review by a judge, Fleck said.

But after the first one was filed, Duenas fled the area, and sheriff's deputies were not able to serve him, she said. So when he threatened the Flecks again and they took him to court for violating the order, the judge had to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor because he said he didn't know he was under an order at the time, Fleck said.

During that hearing, the justice of the peace pointed her finger at Duenas and said "do not contact these people ever again," Fleck said.

He was given a six-month suspended sentence, "with the condition he have no contact with Tonya Fleck or her family," Deputy District Attorney Kelly Partin said.

Fleck said she understood this to be a permanent order.

"We were naive," Fleck said. "We were later told by a sergeant that 'never' only means until the TPO expires."

Back in custody

While at that hearing, the judge discussed revoking Duenas' probation on a drug charge, Partin said, and on April 8, the district judge took away Duenas' diversion status for violating his probation and sent him to prison for 12 to 32 months, she said.

The Nevada Department of Corrections said he's slated to be discharged from the Ely Conservation Camp "on or about March 2," according to a letter sent to the Flecks.

While in custody and under the "no contact" order, Duenas allegedly asked his sister-in-law to contact the Flecks and ask them to write to him, Partin said. Fleck said she gave the information to the police, and they contacted the sister-in-law, who verified the request.

In response to this contact, Partin said she went back to the court to again challenge Duenas for his contacts with the Flecks. The Flecks said they wished the prosecutors had sought to have his suspended sentence revoked sooner, but Partin said since he was already in custody, they filed it in February.

The order to show cause was sent to the court on Feb. 2, she said, and his hearing is set for March 3, one day after his release from Ely.

Partin said she filed a motion asking the judge to issue a warrant to keep him in custody for that extra day, but the judge has not ruled on the motion.

Duenas' lawyer, Sean Sullivan, said the claims of third-party contact "lack merit" and he plans to fight them.

Source: Reno Gazette-Journal