Couple Who Sought Illinois Baby Face Drug, Endangerment Charges

Couple Who Sought Illinois Baby Face Drug, Endangerment Charges

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah couple who sought to adopt an Illinois baby in what became an interstate battle have been charged with felony counts of drug possession and child endangerment.

Stephen Kusaba, 50, and Lenna Habbeshaw, 45, were arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine and marijuana on March 21 after undercover Salt Lake City narcotics officers and child welfare officials served a search warrant at their Salt Lake City home.

The 6-month girl they were attempting to adopt was removed that day and returned to Illinois, where she was reunited with her mother, Carmen McDonald, 20, and grandmother, Maria McDonald.

The Salt Lake City couple were charged Thursday with four felony counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and child endangerment.

The charges carry enhanced potential penalties due to their proximity to a school, Assistant Salt Lake County District Attorney Bob Stott said. They also face misdemeanor charges of possessing drug paraphernalia.

Kusaba and Habbeshaw's phone is unlisted and their lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

State regulators have decided the Midvale-based A Cherished Child Adoption Agency, which placed the girl, Tamia, did not improperly screen the couple.

In an April 1 report, licensing investigator Janice Knaphus said that while Kusaba's background check showed a history of drug use, a licensed clinical social worker hired by the agency determined "lifestyle choices he made in his early 20s" posed no risk to children. Two visits also indicated "the child and family (were) adjusting well."

Lawyers for A Cherished Child say the probe vindicates the agency.

"The agency did everything appropriately," said Salt Lake City attorney Derek Williams. "It turns out this couple was withholding information from everyone: the agency, state and investigative panel."

Agency director Ruby Johnston is still defending herself in Illinois where state officials have filed for an injunction barring her business from doing business there.

Carmen McDonald had given up Tamia by signing away her parental rights in a Salt Lake City motel in December. She sued the adoption agency, in January to get Tamia back, claiming the agency pressured her into signing.

Carmen McDonald decided to put her child up for adoption during a bout of severe depression and other personal problems, including a breakup with her boyfriend, her attorney, Robert Fioretti, said.

Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ruled that the adoption agency violated the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, which requires adoption paperwork to be completed in the state where a child is born, not where an adoption takes place.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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