They couldn't have children of their own, but they wanted a family.
“We tried to get pregnant like everyone else does -- and it didn't work for us,” Vanessa Hodgerson said.
Her husband Cory added, “More than anything, I wanted to be a Dad, and our options were limited.”
The Hodgersons turned to adoption as a way to fulfill their dreams. Through a selection process with local adoption attorneys, a local woman offered to give the Hodgersons her baby when it was born. The joy of parenting, dangled in front of them, then snatched away at the last moment.
It wasn’t just heart-breaking, it was criminal.
”I felt so stupid! Here we are, pretty educated people, and we just got played for seven months,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa is a Jacksonville attorney, who believes her desperation for a family overwhelmed her instincts. Cory, an insurance agent, agrees.
Adoption is tough, made tougher by a woman who took thousands of dollars from the Hodgersons during her pregnancy, and yet promised the same newborn to another family as well.
The Hodgersons took steps with an adoption attorney, creating a photo book for possible birth mothers to review.
“Basically,” Vanessa told us, “It’s a profile of your life, it’s a love story.”
“Going through infertility treatments, start of adoption process, the rejection each time someone looks at your book – it builds! More than anything we want to be parents,” Cory said.
A woman named Candace Chester selected the Hodgersons very early in her pregnancy. The illusion lasted until the day after the baby was born.
Last fall, Chester pleaded guilty, and was sentenced for adoption fraud. On the stand at her sentencing,
Chester said through her tears, “I never intentionally tried to wave the baby in front of their faces. Just because I was broke and had no money, doesn't mean I intentionally tried to use my baby for them.”
Chester is a mother of three, with her first child living at home, and her second child adopted by a Mississippi family. After Chester gave birth to the third child a year ago, she says she changed her mind about giving the baby up. That decision on its own, is the risk adoptive parents take. That isn’t criminal –- even if it’s devastating for people like Vanessa and Cory.
“Yeah, that morning was hell,” Cory said. “When we got that call, I just thought, you’ve gotta be kidding me.”
”We never got to see her, meet her, hold her,” Vanessa lamented. “Later that night, sent text message, saying, ‘What happened?’ The response was, ‘Guess God didn’t want you to have a family just yet.’ (tearful) And that was it! No explanation, no nothing!”
”The social worker said, “She can’t do it.” Ummm… Just devastating!”
Rocked to the core emotionally, the Hodgersons decided to reach out to the family in Mississippi who adopted Chester’s second child. Denee and Caleb Cannon told them Chester had promised the new baby to them, as well. That’s the illegal part of the story.
”I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt that she just changed her mind,” Vanessa recalled during testimony in court. “But I had this gut feeling, during the entire pregnancy, that sometimes things weren't adding up. And it wasn't until I spoke with Denee and Caleb that I realized, she had no intent on ever placing the baby with us.”
Cory said, ”It was just horrible that she would use her baby in that way. And the callousness, that she would celebrate milestones in her pregnancy with both couples.”
The Hodgersons knew at the beginning of the process, they’d probably spend money on Chester for living expenses, and the well-being of the unborn child.