Roxanne Janel Jones and Taj A. Isaiah didn’t just steal money from the victims of their adoption scheme, witnesses testified Monday at their sentencing hearing.
They crushed the hope of some couples ever to have children or the kind of family about which they had dreamed.
Two victims each asked a Kansas federal judge to give Jones and Isaiah enough prison time so they would never again consider inflicting this kind of cruelty on another couple.
“I no longer want revenge,” the first woman testified. “I want to serve as a stopping point for (Jones’) behavior.”
Jones, 35, and Isaiah, 29, both of Kansas City, admitted in November that they had convinced couples that she was pregnant and willing to adopt out the baby in exchange for money and gifts.
U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson sentenced Jones to seven years and three months in prison and ordered her to pay $107,697 in restitution. Isaiah received two years in prison and must pay $99,354 in restitution.
Authorities arrested Jones in March 2011 while she was a target of an undercover CBS News investigation. A CBS News producer, who had hoped to adopt from Jones, tipped the network to the scheme.
Evidence showed that Jones and Isaiah had deceived 23 adoptive families and five adoption agencies across the country, Johnson said.
Although Jones sometimes told families that she was carrying twins, she never was pregnant. And she convinced the excited families to give her a few hundred to several thousand dollars, sometimes to cover expenses such as rent or utilities.
The first victim to testify said that she has found no comfort in knowing that the child she thought Jones was carrying, whom she named “Abigail,” never existed.
“Instead of waiting for my daughter’s birth, I had to deal with loss,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name published. “Even knowing there never ever was a child, I still have an ache for the girl.”
And she warned others that “adoption is an expensive, dangerous journey.”
“What I want is my little girl,” she said. “But I can’t have that.”
Melanie, who agreed to be identified by her first name, came from Iowa with her husband to testify at Jones’ hearing. They had paid more than $10,000 to an adoption agency, a social worker and to Jones before they became suspicious about inconsistencies in the paperwork she was sending.
Melanie described the plunge, from believing that Jones was a friend and full of “pure unselfish love” to the terrible realization that she and her husband had been cheated.
“You are the worst kind of person who committed the worst crime,” Melanie said. “You’ve given adoption a bad name.”
Jones, wearing orange jail scrubs, nodded from the defense table as she watched each woman testify.
Her lawyer and prosecutors agreed ahead of time on the 87-month sentence for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Even so, her lawyer, Kirk C. Redmond, described Jones’ background in detail to provide context for her actions. She was the victim of sexual abuse between ages 3 and 14, Redmond said. By age 10 she was using drugs and, three years later, stripping in a brothel. She got into an abusive relationship at 15 and was married at 18.
“She had an unrelenting drug addiction,” Redmond said.
Addressing the court, Jones said she began scamming the families when she relapsed into drug use in 2009.
“I am tired of contaminating society and am at your mercy today,” Jones told Johnson.
Jones also has an extensive criminal history, including a state theft conviction in Colorado where she ran an earlier version of the adoption scam.
Isaiah played a much smaller role in the conspiracy, occasionally meeting with families while posing as Jones’ landlord. Though his lawyer repeatedly noted that Isaiah was “not a victim,” she said that Jones identified him as an “easy mark” and drew him into her scheme.
“She is one of the most gifted scam artists I’ve ever seen,” said lawyer Jacquelyn E. Rokusek. “She scammed highly educated people. She’s pretty darn good at it.”
Isaiah also apologized for participating.
“I am going to come out and be a strong person and reimburse the families, at least financially,” Isaiah said. “I know I can’t do that emotionally.”
Although Isaiah qualified to self-surrender at a federal prison at a later date, he asked Johnson to have him taken into custody immediately.
Rokusek explained that Isaiah was homeless and had been robbed last week of his last $100, which he had been saving to pay a court fee assessed to those convicted of felonies.
Afterward, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said he was satisfied with the sentences, but said he was not completely certain that his office had identified all of Jones’ victims.
“When someone is scammed by this, there is a level of embarrassment, so they don’t always reach out,” Grissom said. “That only protects the criminal.”