By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published September 2, 2010
Leaders at Catholic Charities Atlanta are confident that the nonprofit’s internal controls are protecting clients after authorities arrested lawyer Lynn Swank after she allegedly forged a judge’s signature on adoption documents.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said the questionable documents were connected to cases she worked on for Catholic Charities Atlanta in 2009.
The documents’ credibility came into question after the agency terminated her contract for performance reasons. Catholic Charities had utilized Swank as a contract attorney to assist with adoption cases. Joe Krygiel, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said part of the reason the irregularities were found is that so many program staff members at the agency review the documents.
“Catholic Charities Atlanta is cooperating fully with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who is heading up the investigation into Ms. Swank’s case,” said Krygiel in a written statement. “All of the adoption cases involved in this incident have been completed successfully.”
‘In The Child’s Best Interest’
The Pregnancy, Parenting & Adoption Program at Catholic Charities Atlanta helps to make, on average, about eight to 10 newborn placements a year.
Sandra Thompson, the head of the program, said the 26-year-old program works with birth mothers to focus on the child’s best interests.
“Our main focus is to ensure that birth mothers have the resources for a healthy pregnancy,” she said.
There is no charge for the services for the birth families, whether they opt for open adoption, a parenting plan or guardianship plan.
“It is our focus to assist mothers in this decision-making process, which emphasizes what is in the child’s best interest, thereby allowing these women to build a future for themselves and for their child through either a parenting, kinship or adoption plan,” Thompson said.
Clients range from teens to women in their 40s, she said, and many contact Catholic Charities with a need for crisis pregnancy counseling. If adoption is the decision, counselors help the mother through the next steps, from selecting and meeting adoptive families to counseling before and after the placement, Thompson said.
The program offers more than just adoption services. Close to 40 parenting families since July 2009 participate in the Parent Talk Program, designed to strengthen parenting skills. Currently 15 families are waiting for a child placement, are in the process, or they have recently started the adoption application. Out of 15 pregnancy counseling clients since July 2009, four have chosen to make an adoption plan, six have chosen to make a parenting plan, and five have chosen a guardianship or kinship adoption plan.
No Adoptions In Jeopardy
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Swank, a Stockbridge lawyer, on Aug. 10, following an eight-month investigation.
Krygiel said none of the adoptions handled by Swank for Catholic Charities Atlanta is in jeopardy, including the four cases connected to the alleged forged signatures.
“The judge in the case and CCA staff went through each case thoroughly to ensure that everything was in order and legitimate. After all corrections were made and documents were properly signed, Judge Gail Tusan confirmed that everything was in order for each of these cases,” he said.
The adoptive families involved in these cases have been notified, he said.
According to authorities, Judge Tusan, a Fulton Superior Court judge, requested that the GBI investigate the case in January after finding her forged signature on four orders terminating parental claims. The order to terminate parental rights is required before a child can be legally adopted.
Swank presented these documents to the court on behalf of Catholic Charities, according to a GBI press release.
In February 2009, Catholic Charities sent the first of four adoption cases to Swank. Authorities allege Swank was paid in March 2009 by Catholic Charities for legal services she did not perform.
According to the GBI, Swank failed to make the required publication in the Fulton County Daily Report, the legal newspaper of Fulton County, and failed to file legal documents with the court. Swank told Catholic Charities she had done the legal work and had a hearing scheduled, but this was not the case, said the GBI.
Catholic Charities expressed concern to Swank in August 2009 about her lack of performance and then terminated her contract a month later. But Swank later filed four forged orders cases with the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk’s Office, the GBI said.
When Catholic Charities later reviewed the orders, program staff found the listed birth mother on one case was incorrect and asked the judge for a corrected order. That is when Judge Tusan’s staff noticed the forged signature, according to the GBI. Copies of the other three orders were reviewed and shown to be forgeries, the GBI said.
Judge Tusan then held a hearing requiring the attendance of both Swank and Catholic Charities’ representatives. Sworn under oath, Swank stated that her former husband had taken the orders to the courthouse for her and must be the one responsible for obtaining the forged signatures, police said.
Authorities said the former husband was out of state when the orders were taken to the courthouse.
Charges against Swank include four counts of forgery, two counts of perjury and one count of theft by deception.
Pat Chivers, communications director for the Atlanta Archdiocese, said Catholic Charities Atlanta is cooperating on this case with the authorities.
Catholic Charities terminated Swank’s contract in September 2009 and retained the services of another attorney to complete the work of the adoptions, Chivers said.