Mexico City – All but one of the babies ensnared in an apparent illegal adoption ring in Mexico have been returned to their mothers, the women's lawyers said Monday.
Attorney Yuri Márquez said Jalisco state authorities returned 10 of the 11 babies to their families last week. The children had been in the custody of the state's protective services since January, when prosecutors opened an investigation after detaining a 21-year-old woman who was accused of "renting" one of her children.
Prosecutors are still running DNA tests on the remaining baby to confirm who her mother is, Márquez said.
The state restored custody to the parents after determining the mothers were tricked into believing their babies were being photographed for an anti-abortion ad campaign, while in reality the children were really being shown to Irish couples looking to adopt.
"The judge was able to see that far from being members of organized crime they are victims, they were tricked," Márquez said.
Federal prosecutors took over the case, but would not comment Monday on the status of the charges. Márquez said seven people are still in federal custody, among them two women who the mothers said scoured a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of the western city of Guadalajara looking for babies.
The 21-year-old woman first detained in the case and the grandmother of another baby, who was accused of knowingly taking part in the scheme, were released from prison six weeks ago for lack of evidence, Márquez said.
Police are also looking for at least two lawyers with the Guadalajara law firm of López López y Asociados who were allegedly processing the adoptions in neighboring Colima state.
The mothers said they signed contracts with a law firm to allow their children to be photographed in different places in Jalisco state for advertising purposes. They told investigators that the babies were taken for up to 15 days at a time and that they received 500 pesos ($36) a day as payment.
People working for the lawyers would take the children to a hotel in Guadalajara where they met with Irish couples who believed they were going to adopt the babies. The couples then took the children to the town of Ajijic, a lakeside resort popular with American and Canadian retirees, where they were staying while the adoptions were finished.
A lead investigator told reporters in January the illegal adoption ring may have been operating for years. In this case, the Irish couples apparently paid the lawyers to search for a baby, to get the custody and to pay for the biological mother's prenatal care. It's not clear whether previous adoptions by Irish people with the same firm followed the pattern.
Cruz Guadalupe Gutiérrez Moreno, 20, says she agreed to have her baby girl, who was born with weak lungs, take part in the alleged anti-abortion campaign so she could pay for the girl's medical attention.
"I was filled with joy when they told us our nightmare was over," Gutiérrez said in a telephone interview about regaining custody. "She knows me and seems happy. The only problem now is that I don't have money for her medicine."