Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ring Selling Adoption Information Is Busted

U.S. and Russian law enforcement agencies have cracked a ring that illegally gathered confidential information on orphaned children and sold it to prospective adoptive parents or adoption agencies, Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said Tuesday.

In a statement posted on the Prosecutor General's Office web site, Fridinsky said that a Russian and U.S. citizens based in California had gathered information on Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh and Guatemalan children through a company called Yunona, and that the firm had been involved in the adoption of a Russian boy who was later killed by his adoptive mother in the United States.

"Pretending to provide various services, this group was effectively engaged in trafficking children," the statement said.

Yunona's Krasnodar-based general director was detained in connection with the investigation and will likely be charged with fraud and illegal disclosure of confidential information, Yulia Vlasova, a spokeswoman for the Krasnodar region prosecutor's office, said by telephone Tuesday.

Vlasova refused to name the suspect, citing the ongoing investigation, but the Krasnodar-based news agency identified him as Ivan Zherdev, citing unidentified officials in Vlasova's office.

If tried and convicted, the suspect could spend up to six years in prison, Vlasova said.

A California newspaper, The Napa Valley Register, on Jan. 7 named Zherdev, 42, as the head of Yunona, and said that the company had been closed down earlier this month. Yunona had been registered in Napa since 2000.

Channel One television on Tuesday said Zherdev was a Russian-born U.S. citizen.

Vlasova said that Yunona's general director had a network of coordinators in five districts of the Krasnodar region who provided him with information on newly orphaned children in state orphanages who were not yet included in the federal database of orphans eligible for adoption. The suspect then illegally posted information about the children on an Internet site, Vlasova said.

The coordinators bribed officials in orphanages to obtain information on orphans and other officials involved in processing adoptions, Vlasova said.

Yunona officials received fees ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 per child from prospective adoptive parents, Fridinsky said in the statement.

Vlasova said that some U.S. citizens seeking to adopt Russian children had paid Yunona but were unable to adopt children. After finding out that the children they were put in touch with were not available for adoption, they contacted U.S. police, Vlasova said.

At least four U.S. families have filed complaints to Napa County District Attorney's office, claiming "they were victims of Yunona bait-and-switch scams or outright theft costing them tens of thousands of dollars the company refused to refund," The Napa Valley Register reported.

Fridinsky said in the statement that Yunona was also involved in the adoption of Alexei Geiko, a boy from the Krasnodar town of Yeisk who was killed by his adoptive mother, Irma Pavlis, in Illinois. Pavlis was sentenced last May to 12 years in prison.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had no immediate comment on Fridinsky's statement.