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Google is Not Your Friend

Monday, 03 August 2009 09:54
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The internet is a powerful tool in the service of investigative journalists reporting on cross-border corruption and transnational criminal enterprises. Investigative reporting can reach a worldwide audience and have impact years after it has been published.  The internet has given investigative stories lives of their own because many are posted and re-posted on discussion forums and are indexed by search engines, used in Wikipedia presentations, quoted by bloggers or used by citizens seeking information.

In October 2001, while working at the Express-News in San Antonio, Texas, as an Alfred Friendly Press fellow (www.afpf.org), I wrote an investigation that took about three months to research. The story appeared in the paper and presented the poorly regulated United States’ foreign adoption programs.

It focused on Orson Mozes, one of the leading brokers of foreign adoptions in the United States. Mozes handled hundreds of adoptions from Eastern Europe and was the subject of suits and other complaints that he failed to disclose medical problems of children to adoptive couples, mistreating and threatening prospective parents and separating siblings without informing the adoptive parents. The money parents spent overseas for adopting children from the former Communist block disappeared without an accounting from Mozes, a situation which created serious problems both in the US and in countries such as Romania, Ukraine or Russia when the adoption industry was riddled with corruption. The story was initiated after I came across complaints about a San Antonio adoption agency posted on the Internet. Reporting the story required combing through IRS documents, property records, company records and court cases as well as conducting interviews on both sides of the parents and separating siblings without informing the adoptive parents. The money parents spent overseas for adopting children from the former Communist block disappeared without an accounting from Mozes, a situation which created serious problems both in the US and in countries such as Romania, Ukraine or Russia when the adoption industry was riddled with corruption. The story was initiated after I came across complaints about a San Antonio adoption Atlantic.

The article was published in October 2001 and seemed to pass almost unnoticed because the American public and much of law enforcement were focused on the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Mozes, undeterred, continued to run his business from his multimillion-dollar  Montecito mansion in Central California.

Reposting Can Extend an Investigation

With time, though, the investigation was posted and re-posted on many websites, mainly on adoption discussion forums. Prospective parents wanting to adopt through Mozes’ agencies might Google his name and would come across my investigation,  which was the only mainstream media article that highlighted Mozes and his misdeeds.

Eventually, Mozes and others who acted on his behalf asked that the story be removed from various websites, including the archive of the San Antonio newspaper. Mozes tried to discredit the findings in the San Antonio Express News by posting his own assessment of my investigation. He titled it “A false international adoptions controversy around Orson Mozes, Center of International Adoption.” 

This posting was also translated to Russian, a language widely used in countries in the former Soviet Block from which his children came. The San Antonio article had been found on the Internet by journalists in these countries and had been republished and passed on to local adoption officials, and Mozes called it, in the same posting: “the abuse of the internet as slander”.

That only prompted more reporting of my article in online adoption forums, and that seemed to prompt Mozes and his employees to take more direct action. They started arguing with people who posted my story. In 2006, on alt.adoption, a Google group, a poster who identified himself as Kevin and said he was a Mozes employee,  promoted adopting from the agency he worked for, Adoption International Program.  His posting read: “I just wanted to let everyone know that if they are thinking about a foreign adoption, Adoption International Program is a wonderful agency to use. They are extremely helpful throughout the adoption process. The rates are fair and their staff is extremely helpful. I would recommend calling Orson Mozes with all your foreign adoption needs.”

Reposter Invokes Google’s Reach

As a response to Kevin’s posting, a forum user nicknamed Dad re-posted my article and added: “Not everyone has such a high opinion of your director.  Google is definitely not your friend.”

Kevin replied immediately: “I did research on him and his agency when I first started here and found that one article that someone posted here. Upon finding it, I did more research and found that it was written by a newspaper that was in the same city as his old partner (ASA) and was obviously propaganda she was using trying to win a lawsuit against Mozes, which she did not win. In fact, she no longer does any international adoptions while Adoption  International Program has huge programs in a few different countries. I  found no other negative articles, though I did find a number of  articles about families who successfully adopted with him from 15 years  ago to more recent.”

The poster identified as Kevin continued his defense by questioning the accuracy of my investigation:
“Throughout my research, I found a lot of forums where people seemed to repost that one article and spread rumors. I found that most of the people who posted about Orson Mozes or Adoption International Program were not even clients and didn't actually have anything to do with the agency but were just repeating something they heard--usually from that one article. I also saw evidence that many of the negative posts were posted by people with competitive agencies. I posted here just to add some positive information to the public forums. Orson is a good person and doesn't deserve all of this negative press.”

In the spring of 2008, Orson Mozes became a most wanted fugitive. He was charged with 62 felony counts, based on accusations by parents that he ran a fraudulent adoption organization, the Adoption International Program. He was featured on America’s Most Wanted. In December 2008 he was arrested after managing to elude law enforcement in Florida for a time by using bogus identities and a fake driver’s license.

Together with Mozes, Christen Brown, his girlfriend, and an employee, identified as Kevin Anderson, are co-defendants standing trial for fraud, conspiracy, misrepreprentation and infliction of emotional distress. The case is ongoing.

The Lesson for Journalists

The Mozes case is just an example of the longterm effects of similar investigations and it taught me and it serves as a lesson for those of us who write investigations. The longevity and tenacity of a single investigation that is posted to the web now informs the work published by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Romania, by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina or by similar centers all over the world.

Results are not always immediate. But the investigations, which appear on the centers’ websites, are indexed by Google and used for a vast array of purposes; from due diligence work to reports by international bodies.

Investigations on trafficking in human beings in the Balkans developed by centers in the region are used by policy makers in the European Union in shaping their policy responses to the growing threat of trafficking in persons. Investigations focused on the involvement of organized crime in exploiting natural resources are of great interest to due diligence companies hired by stock exchange listed mining and petroleum companies.

Such cross-border, web-based investigations can aid law enforcement haunt criminals for many years and impair their abilities to further conduct their enterprises and can offer a way for innocent people who more and more use the web and its links to investigations as a way to avoid becoming victims.

A recent investigation into football’s connections to organized crime in the Balkans prompted law enforcement in Romania to ask French counterparts for help after an investigative team from the Organized Crime and Coruption Reporting Project, which includes area investigative centers such as the Romanian Center, revealed that the same transnational group is involved in fraudulent football players’ transfers in Eastern Europe and in France.

 At the same time, people applying for jobs abroad were warned of criminal groups advertizing non-existent jobs in the off-shore drilling industry. The group was trying to swindle money from people but Google gave them up in many instances.

--Paul Radu

 
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