Friday, January 02, 2009

Documents: Adoption agency run by Neuharth's wife paid her $76,000 as it got foundation grants

Home At Last's annual Internal Revenue Service report shows it paid the non-profit agency's president for an average 20 hours' work per week in 2007; her total compensation for the year was $26,000.

A non-profit adoption agency in Florida led by the wife of Freedom Forum founder Al Neuharth paid her more than $76,000 in wages in 2004-2007, after getting nearly $66,000 in grants from the charitable journalism foundation, newly emerged public documents show.

The payments to Dr. Rachel Fornes, a chiropractor, began in 2004, when annual revenue at the Home At Last Adoption Agency in Cocoa Beach started soaring.

Home At Last is among hundreds of non-profits that received millions of dollars in Freedom Forum grants since 2000 -- even though many of the groups appear to share little in common with the charitable foundation's journalism mission, public documents show.

The wages paid to Fornes surfaced today in a Gannett Blog review of the adoption agency's annual reports to the Internal Revenue Service. In 2007, Home At Last paid Fornes $26,000 on revenue of $317,517. It reported expenses of $261,380 that year, including the wages paid to Fornes, the documents show.

$1.1 million in revenue
The documents show Home At Last reported $1,089,958 in revenue from 2000 to 2007, including fees paid by prospective parents. About 61% came in 2007 and 2006 alone, as the agency's revenue rose sharply, the documents say. Home At Last charges about $30,000 per adoption, according to its online application form. The single-biggest item is the agency fee of $18,500.

Freedom Forum, based in Washington, D.C., has refused to answer questions about spending on Home At Last and other non-profits nationwide -- including in Florida's Brevard County. Neuharth, 84 (left), and Fornes live in the county's Cocoa Beach, where they are raising their six adopted children. For example, Freedom Forum gave $35,500 to the Montessori Parent Organization in Indian Harbour Beach, and $46,500 to Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne from 2000 to 2007, public documents show.

Fornes started the business in 2001 as Babies Up For Adoption Agency Inc. Three years later, she renamed it Home At Last, according to Florida state business registration documents. Fornes has registered two other companies at the same address: Dr. Rachel Fornes & Associates LLC, and a day spa called Spa Nirvana, state records show.

Neuharth has two adult children from a previous marriage. Melbourne also is home to Florida Today, one of Gannett's 85 daily newspapers.

The grants to Home At Last and other charities came as administrators were simultaneously invading the foundation's endowment to build a $450 million mixed-use complex for its most visible and costly project, the Newseum. The news museum in Washington replaced a smaller version when it opened last April -- three years late, and $200 million over initial cost projections, foundation documents show.

In November, Freedom Forum cut the Newseum's workforce by 10%, or about 25 jobs. Foundation Chairman and CEO Charles Overby (left) said the reduction was necessary because of a decline in the endowment, to $450 million from $600 million.

A Neuharth family office?
Neuharth is senior advisory chairman to the foundation, which is governed by its 19-member board of trustees. Freedom Forum paid him $225,000 in 2007, plus another $184,482 for expenses, the foundation's IRS reports show. A daughter by his first marriage, Jan Neuharth, an enquine enthusiast in Middleburg, Va., is also a trustee; she was paid $46,000 in 2007.

Neuharth, the retired Gannett chairman and CEO, launched Freedom Forum in 1991 with $650 million in Gannett capital handed over under duress by shareholders. The foundation has been run since then like charity's version of a Neuharth family office, Gannett Blog found in a review of more than 9,000 pages of its annual public IRS reports.

Freedom Forum says it is "a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. The foundation focuses on three priorities: the Newseum, First Amendment freedoms and newsroom diversity."

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  1. Sounds like an NIE program. Kids with homes are more likely to read the paper, so promoting adoption is in our best interests. And as we have a number of properties in Florida, where most people are beyond child-bearing age, well, we should invest in adoption there.

    Convoluted, schmonvoluted.

  2. I don't usually use expletives when commenting, but holy shit!

    Amazing work, Jim!

  3. There are 990s for a BUFA Foundation for 2000 and 2001. Shouldn't there be a return closing everything out if Babies Up For Adoption is BUFA and changed to Home At Last?

  4. Not the first time for old Al. He had Gannett pay his then girlfriend to do the interior decorating of the old Arlington corporate headquarters on Wilson Boulevard.

    Remember the life size bronze statue of the naked girl taking off her t-shirt while sitting along side the idiot fountain in the corporate dining room!

    Giving $76,000 is about supporting 'Free Spirit.' Bartender, I'll have what he's drinking. HA!

    Al's a little man with an ego bigger than his home state of South Dakota.

    1. Didn't you read that the $76,000 was over a three year period? That's approximately $25,000 a year for running a not-for-profit agency.

  5. How can a naked girl take off a shirt?

  6. Jim - This is, ofcourse, great stuff. It is shocking in its blatant disregard for ethics, wasteful and legally suspecious of Freedome Foram, Gannett and Newarth.

    In fact, it is the VERY kind of stuff that Gannett used to encourage newspapers to investigate when it was being done by local government bodies! Ha!

    Sadly, though, I doubt ANYONE in the media will have the guts to pick up and run with this in either a newspaper or magazine. Certainly no TV news outlet would touch it. Such a shame, too!

    If all the facts were known, this could bring down the Freedom Forum and gannett.

  7. Actually, the statue was a woman wearing running clothes and she way tying her shoe. I believe I was told the bronze was shipped to Al's home in Melbourne after a female employee complained about it in the dining room.

  8. the people at the top in this company should be ashamed of themselves - they conduct themselves in an arrogant, irresponsible manner and don't give a shit about the actual newspaper business or journalism for that matter. It's just disgusting having to be associated with these scumbags!

  9. I've been using Google Documents throughout this project -- especially the spreadsheet program, which I've used to build several databases from the information in Freedom Forum's tax returns. These programs are all free.

    Virtually all the other research and interviewing has been done online. Florida state government has especially good online public records.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. This is interesting to me as someone who investigates adoption. They profess to protect first amendment rights but yet adoptees and birthmothers for that matter are denied some of their first amendment rights. The right to association. We are denied access to the original birth certificate.This kind of situation really does not surprise me at all. That is how adoption agencies do things and shuffle their money around.

    Are we talking the same fellow that is mentioned here in this article?

    This article was written by Marley Greiner of Bastard Nation by the way.

    1. Adoptive parents are not denied access to original birth certificates. And birthmoms are only denied access if they have signed consent papers transferring guardianship to the adoption agency before registering their child. After consent papers are signed, birthmoms waive ALL parental rights to the child.

    2. I need to amend my previous statement. If a birthmom's name was put on the child's original birth certificate (and there are some cases where it is not) the birthmom has to give written consent for that information to be released to the adoptive parents or the child. At least this is how it is in Florida. This regulation exists to protect the birthmom's right to privacy.

  11. "How can a naked girl take off a shirt?"

    How do you think she became naked?

    If she left the shirt ON, she wouldn't have been naked!

  12. You'd think the IRS would just want to routinely glance over the list of grants and gifts just to make sure they come close to fulfilling the giving foundation's mission. Guess that's asking too much.

  13. But so many questions remain:

    Would Florida records tell how many adoptions a year this agency and its predecessor processed, excluding Neuharth's own stash of kids?

    How would someone find out where Home at Last gets its inventory of babies to sell? What government office makes sure the adoption agency isn't extorting pregnant women?

    Is the address for the agency a real office sustained solely for adoption services, or is it a Neuharth playhouse or some other place of dual or more purposes?

    What is Rachel a "Dr." of?

    I advocate safe-legal-rare, so I'm not passing personal judgment on the couple, but this is the kind of business predisposed to corruption. It seems imprudent for a free-press foundation to financially support NARAL and adoption agencies, even it is wasn't a violation of the 501c mission and even if nepotism wasn't involved.

    If this extremely wealthy couple pursued the adoption work out of kindness, why did they need foundation money laundered into Dr. Rachel's pocketbook?
    Wouldn't you think Dr. Rachel, as a wealthy woman, would volunteer her time to the adoption service and make charitable donations TO the free-press foundation for the tax deductions?

    1. DCF is the government agency that regulates most adoption agency activities. DCF does not govern every case though. All adoptions must be examined and approved by a local county judge which in this case would be in Brevard since that is where HAL is located. International inter-state adoptions are more complicated because judges in multiple states/countries are involved.

      And HAL's files would have to be subpoenaed before they could be released to any outside entity per state and federal law regarding the privacy of the birthmother (see HIPAA).

      And to make sure birthmoms are not being extorted, Florida law mandates that consent paperwork cannot be signed by the birthmom until she is either released from the hospital post delivery or until 48 hours have passed since birth of baby, whichever comes first. Agencies are also required to audio record the entire meeting in which the birthmother signs consent paperwork and she is required to give verbal and written confirmation that she is not and has never been under any form of duress from the agency.

      Also, why is it people on this blog seem to have the opinion that those who work for non-profits and not-for-profits should not be paid a decent wage for their work, regardless of how much money they already have?

  14. 12:58 pm: Excellent questions, and I'm interesting in answering them all.

    You asked what kind of doctor is Rachel Fornes. You may have missed this: she is a chiropractor.

  15. And to think. This is an international adoption agency.

    Here are just a few of my questions:
    -Did Al and his wife use her own agency to process the adoptions for any of their six children?
    -BUFA Foundation, it seems, started out as early as 1996, but was not incorporated until 2001. It started with the goal of providing for the health, education and welfare of unwed mothers at 333 South Atlantic Avenue. When did the adoption part get added in, and when did the address change? What took so long for the incorporation?
    -Who, besides Freedom Forum, gave substantial gifts or support.
    -I notice some capital losses claimed for 2000 and 2001. Huh? For a nonprofit?
    -Seems Home At Last leases office space from the director. Who is that?
    -What's with the two different spellings of the doctor's last name? And the different names for Home At Last?

    1. HAL is a not-for-profit, not a non-profit, which means they can have capital losses.

  16. This is great stuff! Just the other day I started looking into some things myself dealing with the adoption business. Then your blogs came out! You'll be hearing from me soon. And the questions anon asked are very much on my mind.

    BTW, here is what I wrote the other day about Al's misuse of adoption language: While no fan of "proper adoption language" he was way off base on this, a just looked stupid.

  17. "Remember the life size bronze statue of the naked girl taking off her t-shirt while sitting along side the idiot fountain in the corporate dining room!"

    Is the idiot fountain what spawns corporate directors? Or do those get pooped out, life-size, from the blue ball?

  18. Amazing to see this dedication to adoption. Especially because Gannett adoptive parents were ordered to divulge confidential adoption information to Chapman Kelly, an outside firm no one seems to know anything about, as part of the verification process for benefits last year. As any adoptive parent knows, there information in those papers that is very sensitive - not really something you want to hand over to people you don't know and have no reason to trust.
    Not to mention the humiliation of having to prove that your legally adopted kids are REALLY yours and therefore eligible to covered by Gannett's crappy health insurance.
    Real adoption sensitivity from the company.
    I wonder if Big Al, his wife, the good Dr., and their brood were also required to turn over private information to prove that those kids are REALLY theirs?
    I bet not.


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