Tearful: Kathleen Rhodes of Miller Place Long Island was reunited with her biological daughter Sara Hudson, 34, whom she hasn't seen since birth
A woman who was sold as a newborn to a Manhattan couple by a notorious baby broker, Rabbi Seymour Fenichel (Yeshiva University, Class of 1946), 34 years ago has finally found her Long Island birth mom.
A woman who was "sold" as a newborn to a Manhattan couple by a notorious baby broker 34 years ago has finally found her Long Island birth mom.
A beautiful infant with wide eyes and a rosebud mouth, Sara Hudson was grabbed from the arms of her unwed teenage mother in a Long Island hospital parking lot in 1977. Minutes later, at a gas station, she was given to an older Manhattan woman, who panicked when she spotted a police car.
Driving between lots to transfer the baby was Seymour Fenichel, a Brooklyn lawyer and rabbi who cashed in on hundreds of black-market adoptions in the '70s and '80s by exploiting pregnant girls and childless couples.
Hudson is one of the first "Seymour Fenichel adoptees" to learn the harrowing details of how she changed hands. A dozen others have formed a Facebook support group that includes birth moms who gave up babies to Fenichel -- and are pushing lawmakers to open up sealed adoption records.
Hudson tracked down her birth mom, Kathleen Rhodes, now 53, in Smithtown, LI -- and found four sisters.
In a tearful reunion last week, they embraced for the first time since Hudson was born.
"I have been waiting for you to find me. I've always loved you. I've always thought about you," said Rhodes.
"I'm sorry it took me so long," Hudson replied.
When she started her search last year, Hudson was stunned to learn about Fenichel, who with his daughter, Deborah Greenspan, and Harriet and Lawrence Lauer of Brooklyn, was busted in 1988 for running a "large-scale baby-selling business."
A 144-count indictment by the state attorney general charged they "sold babies to the highest bidder," forced mothers to falsify birth certificates and coerced those who wavered into giving up their babies, using emotional and financial intimidation.
They put ads in supermarket tabloids to recruit knocked-up young women: "PREGNANT, undecided, confused and worried? Thinking about adoption? Free medical, housing, financial help and counseling. Call collect."
The Lauers took in pregnant women themselves and boarded others in group homes. They registered them in hospitals under phony names.
Fenichel catered to mostly Jewish couples -- and milked them. They flocked to his Second Avenue office and paid up to $35,000 each, including cash up front to Fenichel. He and the Lauers demanded more and more money, including "maintenance" for the pregnant girls, court records show. Some couples were told to pay $5,000 as a "gift" to the young women, who never got it.
When one couple paid but got no baby, they alerted authorities. Fenichel was recorded blaming a birth mother for backing out, calling her a "stupid broad."
In a plea deal, Fenichel and his cohorts avoided jail. He was disbarred and died in 1994 at age 70.
Kathleen Akeson, Rhodes' maiden name, was 18 when she got pregnant in 1976. Feeling afraid and unable to raise a child, she saw the newspaper ad, called the 718 number and spoke to a "Sister Marie."
"All along, I thought I was dealing with nuns," she said.
The woman immediately asked, "What race are you?" and what hair and eye color she and the baby's father had. In Fenichel's first call, he asked if she was "pretty."
"Sister Marie" pressed the teen to move into a place in the city until she delivered. Rhodes refused, but when her mother found out about the pregnancy, she spent the last two months in a basement apartment near St. John's Hospital, now St. Catherine of Siena, in Smithtown.
Fenichel paid her rent and medical bills but gave only $100 cash for food and clothes, Rhodes said.
"It was never about money for me. I only wanted to find the baby a good home."
Soon Rhodes heard from a woman who identified herself as the "sister" of the woman set to adopt the baby. She told Rhodes her sister was desperate after waiting nine years for a child and gushed with gratitude.
"I couldn't let that woman down. I felt I couldn't renege," Rhodes said. "I prayed I was doing the right thing."
But Hudson's adoptive mother has no sisters, Rhodes recently learned.
In the hospital, Rhodes and the father, Larry, held and fed the baby for two days. When Fenichel found out, he sent the fake sister to the hospital. "She was loving and thanking me. I was crying. My boyfriend was crying." Rhodes said.
But once Rhodes was discharged in a wheelchair, cradling the infant, the "sister" dropped her act. "She suddenly grabbed the baby, jumped in a car with Fenichel and drove off." Larry collapsed to the ground in grief.
When Rhodes went to court to formally relinquish the child, Fenichel told Larry to wait outside. Fenichel gripped her arm and insisted she testify she didn't know who the father was, to avoid delays. Rhodes reluctantly obeyed.
As they left, Fenichel warned, "Don't make things hard for me. I can get you in a lot of trouble, because you lied to the judge."
Rhodes said Fenichel promised that when the baby turned 18, she would get information about her. That never happened.
At last week's reunion, Hudson's adoptive mother, 32 at the time, recalled waiting in a small lot. When she saw a cop car, she froze: "Would they arrest us because we were taking someone's baby?"
The retired teacher, now 66 and divorced, didn't want her name used. She admitted she had left the adoption finances to her husband, a lawyer -- and didn't ask questions.
"I wanted that baby. I would have killed for that baby," she said. Hudson's adoptive dad says he can't remem ber what he paid Fenichel but found a check for $10,000.
Two years after Sara arrived, her adoptive parents had a biological girl, then a boy. Hudson never fit into the family.
"We were polar opposites," she said. "I looked different. I acted differently."
It got so unbear able that her par ents sent Hudson to a boarding school in the Adi rondacks at age 12 and she never lived at home again. She settled in Richmond, Va., became an EMT and married a cop.
Last year, Hudson almost died from a blood clot in her lung. When asked for her medical history, she replied, "I don't have any. I'm adopted."
She and her husband, Tom, began to search for her birth mom with the blessing and support of her adoptive family. Their relationship had repaired and become close.
New York's adoption records are sealed, but Hudson's parents remembered the name "Catherine Akeson."
Turned away by the Smithtown clerk, they searched yearbooks, but for the wrong high school.
On June 1, they struck gold at the main branch of the New York Public Library in Midtown. In a nondescript room for history and genealogy research, they pulled up microfilm of a 1977 Smithtown phone book. Just as the library was closing, they found a listing for "John W. Akeson."
Using property records, Tom traced the name to an 81-year-old man in St. Petersburg, Fla. -- Hudson's grandfather. Records linked his name to a Kathleen Rhodes.
Hudson wrote to Rhodes on Facebook: "I was born in June of 1977 in Smithtown, NY, and I am looking for information about my family."
"Oh my God, it's her!" Rhodes screamed after reading the note.
Rhodes married Hudson's father six years after she was born. They had four more daughters: Ashley, now 26, Brittany, 24, Caitlyn, 23, and Taylor, 21.
When each daughter turned 16, Rhodes told them about "the baby," name unknown. "I never kept it a secret," she said. The family marked every June 18 with a birthday cake in her honor and wondered if she would come forward.
Knowing they cared gave Hudson great relief and comfort.
"I never knew if I was wanted," she said. "Now I feel much more connected."