Monday, June 16, 2014

The Hayhow Trial - Executives will Finally Face Trial

Next month will mark five years since we thought our adoption dreams were over.  We learned on Monday, July 13, 2009 that our Ontario-based adoption agency (Imagine Adoption) had declared bankruptcy, amidst allegations that the two (married) people who headed up the agency had misappropriated funds and had used over $400,000 of the money that adoptive families had paid them to cover adoption expenses, towards personal home renovations, various expensive trips, spa treatments, a horse and saddle, home fencing, cosmetic dentistry, food and designer clothing, pool installations, and so on.  At the time of the bankruptcy, money was also owed by the agency to a swimming pool business, a home renovation contractor and a landscaper, who confirmed the work was done at the Hayhows' private residence.

We were one of the 400 or so families affected by the bankruptcy.

While we were devastated by the prospect of lost dreams and the loss of a large amount of money, there were other families who had already received referrals and who had children in our agency's transition home in Addis Ababa; these families were left utterly in limbo with their referred children living in the transition home while court processes or immigration processes were incomplete.  Worse, reports began to come in that there was no food remaining in the transition home and that staff were having to leave (or work with no pay) because they hadn't been paid salary and had to look after their own families.  Babies were being given one bottle/day; children fed one Mr. Noodle packet a day.  It was a complete mess and a panic to keep 42 children alive in the transition home.  We families here scrambled for resources to help.

Help came:  A generous company out of Toronto (I'm so sorry I forget its name) offered to fund the transition home's food and other expenses until families were able to complete their adoptions (they offered up $100,000!); a lawyer who had worked with Imagine Adoption here in Canada and who specialized in adoption and human rights law flew out from Canada to Addis on a volunteer basis and stayed there for  months to ensure that every child in the transition home was cared for and that legal and immigration processes were completed; and families with referred children in the transition home began to fly out to Addis to take custody of their children even before the processes were completed (some new adoptive parents stayed for weeks and months until their adoptions were completed).

It was such a mess, both in Addis Ababa and in Canada.  And so traumatic for everyone involved.

Life seemed to stop for a while in those early days.  After the bankruptcy was announced, I felt such overwhelming sadness that for the first few days afterwards I didn't want to leave my bed.  My sister and a friend helped me care for Matthew for those initial couple of days while I watched progress online and cried in my bed.

And then on the Thursday of that week, something happened.  Families across the country galvanized...decided that this could not be the end.  It was like all of us woke up on that morning and decided that enough was enough - surely our dreams wouldn't end just because of money.  We organized ourselves.  We organized ourselves through the online yahoo forum that we'd been participating in for years already; we arranged province-by-province meetings of prospective adoptive families, and representatives of each province's families were involved in conference calls to make plans of action; we contacted umpteen media channels for interviews and reports (my introduction to being interviewed for the news!); met with MPs (mine was outstanding to deal with); Ontario-based families met with those in political positions and with the Ontario adoption board that oversaw Imagine Adoption; we emailed and phoned the Trustee in Bankruptcy that had been appointed to the agency and pleaded our cause with them; the to-do lists and the meetings went on and on.  It was a massive surge of organized effort that I've never seen the likes of before, and it created both pressure and a huge level of awareness of the situation with all of the people that needed to hear it.

As a result, something began to happen at the end of July '09, just weeks after the bankruptcy was announced.  As per normal procedure, the Trustee in Bankruptcy of the agency held a meeting in Kitchener (which I flew out to attend on behalf of Manitoba families, and even with some financial support from our Manitoba families to make the trip).  There were 200+ families represented at that meeting, and the Trustee spent a couple of hours reviewing with us what had happened and what had been done to date.  Then, towards the end of the meeting, she said that she had an announcement to make and that announcement was, essentially, an offer to help families restructure the agency.  She asked how many families would be in favour of restructuring the agency, even if it meant putting more money into the failed agency.  She asked for a vote - that we hold up our yellow voting cards if we were in favour of restructuring the agency.

It was unanimous.

I remember sitting in my chair in that big meeting hall with tears pouring down my face as held up my yellow card and felt a sliver of hope return.  I heard crying noises and was shocked to know that they were coming from me.  Then I looked around me and saw that it wasn't just me - everyone around me was crying...holding up their cards to be counted and crying the big ugly cry. I turned in my chair to look at the crowd behind me, and at the back of the room I saw two men, standing up with their legs planted apart, tears running down their cheeks, holding their yellow cards high above their heads.  It was one of the most moving things I've ever been a part eyes fill with tears just remembering.

And that's what happened:  Over the coming months, the trustee in bankruptcy worked with families to restructure Imagine Adoption.  Over half of the families voted to continue on (while others were simply unable to, for financial and other reasons); we all contributed several thousand more dollars to keep the agency afloat; agency staff (minus their terminated leaders, of course) volunteered countless hours of work to keep things going; and on and on.  It was a huge effort by a large number of people.

It worked - the agency rose from the ashes.  Finally, less than six months after the bankruptcy was declared and the restructuring had been completed, the first child referral from Ethiopia was given by the resurrected agency to a waiting family.  At the time of the bankruptcy, we had been next on the list for siblings within the age range we were open to (in fact, I have good reason to believe that we had a referral pending at the time of the bankruptcy but obviously we never received it); we ended up waiting until near the end of November, 2010, for a referral of the children we now call our own.

But the story wasn't over.  Thanks to the old Imagine's board of directors, who were the ones to initially catch wind that something was amiss with the two heads of the agency, the police became involved early on and, after over two years of investigating and wading through the countless details that are involved in fraud cases, it was the RCMP that laid formal fraud charges against Rick and Sue Hayhow. 

Since then we have seen delay after delay in the legal proceedings.  

Until now.  

Today, this very day, the Hayhows are without further means of procrastination; they are watching proceedings as jury selection takes place for the trial that (I believe) starts tomorrow.  

I so wish I could be there for the next two weeks (the length of time the trial is expected to take).  I have heard about Sue Hayhow that she remains utterly remorseless for her (alleged!) actions, and I would so like to look her directly in the eye and tell her how badly she and her (ex) husband hurt so many people; how close many of us came to never being able to realize our dreams of creating or completing our families; how they financially ruined some families; how they shattered the dreams of many who were unable to continue with the resurrected agency.

Most of the families who were able to remain with the restructured agency now have children home, and a few others have referrals pending; there are only a few (a dozen?) of those 'legacy' families still waiting.  But what a wait it has been for each of these families, especially for those who had paid their money to Imagine and put themselves on a wait list just weeks before the bankruptcy was announced and who have had to wait many more years before having their dreams of family realized.

I have forgiven the Hayhows for all of the mess that followed July '09, but I readily acknowledge that I hope these charges result in a conviction and jail time.  Fraud charges are notoriously hard to prove and to convict on, but I'm hoping anyway.

I cannot wish away the events of July 2009 because I have my beautiful children despite/because of it.  But those days have forever imprinted themselves in my memory and have shaped some of my life's outlook.  Those were surely life-altering days, and they make me ever so much more thankful for my completed family.


Here is a link to a short video clip that summarizes what's happening better than I could, and offers a brief glimpse of Sue Hayhow on her cell phone as she makes her way up the steps to the courthouse:

Bankrupt Cambridge Adoption Agency Under Trial For Fraud Charges

Also, the article below from last week offers a few details; this was written by journalist Brian Caldwell of Kitchener's The Record; I so appreciate this journalist because he has faithfully reported on this case since allegations about the Hayhows first came to light in 2009.


Five years later, Imagine Adoption couple up for trial

KITCHENER — Almost five years after the collapse of an international adoption agency, charges
against the former couple at the centre of the scandal will finally be aired starting Monday.
Rick and Susan Hayhow — the key executives at Cambridge-based Imagine Adoption — are
scheduled to go on trial for eight fraud-related offences involving hundreds of thousands of dollars
in suspect personal expenses.
To be decided over the course of about two weeks in Superior Court in Kitchener, the high-profile
case has taken longer to get before a jury than the four years the non-profit Christian agency was
actually in operation.
An umbrella organization for three related agencies, Imagine left hundreds of would-be parents
across Canada in limbo when it went bankrupt in the summer of 2009.
Susan Hayhow, now 48, was executive director of the agency, which primarily facilitated adoptions
from Ethiopia.
Rick Hayhow, now 49, had already left his post as chief financial officer with a year of severance
pay following a revelation his wife was having an affair with Andrew Morrow, a married employee
and board member.
Fallout from the affair led to financial scrutiny by other board members, who were surprised to
discover the Hayhows had a combined income of about $320,000 while they both drove expensive
leased vehicles.
Also raising eyebrows were questionable expenses — including family vacations, high-end clothing,
cosmetic dental surgery, home renovations and a horse — that had allegedly been billed to the agency.
Directors concluded Imagine was in too much of a financial bind to recover and put the agency
into bankruptcy.
An estimated 400 clients, some of whom had spent $20,000 on the lengthy process to adopt a child
from overseas, were devastated.
Imagine had just $500,000 in bank accounts, while clients left in the lurch by the collapse initially
filed about $3 million in claims as part of the bankruptcy process.
While most families scrambled to resurrect the agency by putting even more money into it, board
members also went to police with suspicions of financial wrongdoing.
After an 18-month investigation by Waterloo Regional Police and the RCMP that included the
examination of reams of documents, the Hayhows were charged in spring 2011.
Often seeming to sit as far away as possible from each other, they have since had numerous court
appearances and a preliminary hearing to reach this point in the prosecution.
The trial is expected to begin with jury selection Monday, followed by the start of evidence Tuesday.


  1. We were very affected and one of the 400 families. Thanks for posting this and please continue to post any information you have. We ended up adopting out two wonderful children from China and have our babies home but are still in great debt because of the bankruptcy. I pray they are prosecuted and justice is served.

    1. Thanks, Tasha, for commenting. I am both saddened by your comment because of the hellish situation you/we found ourselves in and the debt load that you now carry (us, too); and joyful for you because you ended up bringing home two precious little ones...congratulations! What a long and arduous journey.

      I will continue to post as I learn/hear things.



  2. This was well said Ruth. I can't wish away the events of July 2009 because without them, we wouldn't have Owen, but what a life altering roller coaster (our file landed in Ethiopia in May 2009)! I'm so glad the end is in sight, this saga has dragged on too long.

  3. Thanks Ruth, the journey to our two lovely children was a challenging one but we are thrilled to have them home, or son for just over 4 years and our daughter 9 months yesterday!!
    I often think of how affected so many families were and pray they all found their dreams of family realized too. We are really a community of families with so much in common, dreams of a family. All the best to your family 😃