FBI investigating ND woman accused of running adoption scam
WOODWORTH, N.D.—Moms across the country are blaming a North Dakota woman for destroying their sense of safety and their hope to grow their family.
The Stutsman County Sheriff's Office is investigating Woodworth native Betty Jo Krenz.
She was once a social worker in Spirit Lake, now accused in what these mothers call an adoption scam.
Accusations stretch across the country, starting in North Dakota, then to Rapid City, South Dakota.
Our story begins in Oregon, where one family believed they were receiving a child and started the adoption process last February, all the way to September.
It was the moment Oregon-native Autym Burke and her husband waited for.
But their dream became a nightmare when they found out a baby was never coming to fill their empty stroller.
"I had a lot of dreams of seeing my husband hold our baby. And so, having to let those dreams go and having to know how much it would hurt both of our families, that was hard," said Burke.
It was Autym who first realized something wasn't right, saying she heard too many excuses from Betty Jo, a woman Autym says claimed to be arranging their adoption.
She came to their house for a home evaluation, all for a fee.
"It's hard for me to understand how anyone can get so personally involved in families, and do this kind of thing. And sleep fine at night," said Burke.
Autym was waiting on 5-month old Julissa, who they planned to rename 'Ruby'.
However, Julissa was never up for adoption.
"I never thought of her like that. She played Grandma to Juliessa," said Jodie Blackboy, Julissa's mom.
Autym contacted her on Facebook to let her know Betty Joe was using her daughter's photo in what she calls an adoption scam.
Jodie made the allegations public on Facebook in September, and found out she wasn't alone.
Other victims came forward, including Grand Forks Native Alayna Ross.
She says her son's photo was used in adoption group chat involving Betty Jo.
"My first thought was that I was angry. I was so frustrated, I wanted to cry because that is my son's picture. That is my baby. And for somebody using it for their own selfish purposes or just exploiting him to all these people that are in different states and are saying that he is a child in need. He needs love. I give him these things at home," said Ross.
Alayna says the photo was taken from her Mom's Facebook page, then sent to a woman she didn't know.
"I was posting pictures of my kids left and right, as a proud mom. This is my son. My love and joy," said Ross.
Autym says Julissa's photos were sent to her, at one point on a weekly basis, then came the fake documents.
Then Betty Jo asked for $1,800.
Autym says she gave money to Betty Jo because she believed she had a proven track record, promoting herself as an advocate for children.
We did an interview with Betty Jo in 2012:
"The people in North Dakota are very caring people. They have big hearts, but we are also naive. We like not to think that neglect and abuse and murder are happening right in our backyard," said Betty Jo Krenz.
Throughout her time as an advocate for children, Betty Jo continued to rack up a criminal record.
She was convicted on multiple felonies and misdemeanors: counterfeiting, theft and burglary.
In 2012, she plead guilty to forging a check for over $30,000.
More charges may be on the way. The Stutsman County Sheriff's office, along with the FBI and BCI, has launched their own investigation on the adoptions.
"At first, it had to be around 6 to 7 calls a day. Especially in the beginning, we were getting ton of calls," said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County Sheriff.
The 11-deputy sheriff's department says it was struggling to keep up with its own patrols. After death threats on social media, they've been forced to add extra patrols around the Krenz Farm, located in Woodworth.
The town's population is 50, including Betty Jo and husband Jason Krenz.
There are a number of no trespassing signs on the Krenz Farm, and we wanted to honor that.
So instead, we called Betty Jo to see if she would talk with us.
Betty Jo told us previously she has 'no comment' about the allegations.
But for these women who claim they're Betty Jo's victims, their sense of security is forever shattered.
"Now I constantly want to be looking at him and know he's next to me. Just to feel comfortable. Or to feel that he is safe. That I don't have to worry. Or have him hold my hand constantly. And I don't know, it just makes me want to leave my house a little less, if I don't have to," said Ross.
Autym in Oregon has one message for other parents with hopes of adoption.
"I really think you've just got to go through licensed agencies. Get word of mouth recommendations look at reviews," said Burke.
Autym hopes her empty stroller will be filled soon, not by Ruby, but with a different child as they go through a reputable agency.
"It's been a dream for too long for us to turn our backs on that, just because of one person. We believe that the right child will come along," said Burke.
Autym believes she is one of two families who believed they were adopting a child.
Autym says Betty Jo returned the $1,800.
If you would like to follow Autym's journey on her second adoption attempt, we have a link to her newly-started page below: