By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Davis kept up the charade even after the trip. She wrote in a letter to a disgruntled trip member who had asked for a refund that Fimina, "the head of the orphanages, was under investigation for selling people babies." Lynne Dundon called the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and was told that this was not remotely true.
In the months preceding the trip, Rebecca had apparently been so absorbed in the celebrity of fund raising that she had neglected the trip logistics. Heather Bomberger, Davis' contact in the U.S. State Department, who was supposed to help arrange the airlift, says that she was contacted by Davis in late October, and told Davis how to go about applying for an airlift for her humanitarian aid. Though it takes weeks to arrange for a military plane, Davis didn't complete the application process until two or three days before departure. Furthermore, as Bomberger says, "We weren't really excited about the type of commodity they were shipping. We only airlift critical materials," not Bibles and teddy bears and furniture.
Rather than admit her mistake there, Davis became desperate. "All hell broke loose," Bomberger says. Davis tried unsuccessfully to bluff an airlift by calling her congressmen, but it didn't work.
Bluffing had worked well for her before. Courtney Baird, who handles overseas humanitarian missions for the Ohio governor's office, says, "The night before they were to leave, the visas still hadn't come through. Davis called the Russian ambassador and said, 'The media is in my kitchen, and I'm going to tell them you're biting the hand that feeds them.'"
According to a lawsuit filed by Just Travel, the travel agency that set up the flights and accommodations for Project Russia, on November 28, Davis wrote the agency a check for nearly $72,000 to cover the costs of the trip. The check bounced. Still, Davis didn't throw in the towel. Instead, she convincingly promised to cover the shortfall--which may have prompted the last-minute fee adjustment that Davis said would pay for meals. The travel agency let the trip go on. In Moscow the trip members discovered they still had to pay for their own meals.
In its lawsuit, Just Travel is trying to recover a remaining balance slightly greater than $19,000 to cover the cost of the hotel in Moscow. St. Mark's United Methodist Church was also named in the suit, because its name was on the Project Russia checking account. The church plans to file a cross claim to have its name removed from the suit.
Davis filed some suits of her own in small-claims court to try to collect from those people who had stopped payment on their checks from Moscow. She later dropped the claims after a conversation with her Methodist bishop, who was understandably upset that she had dragged the church into her scandal. The Reverend Louise Williams, pastor at St. Mark's Church, loses her temper at the mere mention of Davis' name.
One newsletter Wendy received asked if anyone was filing a class-action suit against Davis, but got no takers. Mike Dundon and others reported Davis to the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the FBI, and though the Ohio attorney general will neither confirm nor deny anything, the Columbus office of the FBI admits that it is concluding an investigation as to whether Davis committed wire fraud, and if she did, whether she had criminal intent.
Roberta Grimm sent a letter to everyone shortly after their return, stressing that Apple Computer had no official role in Project Russia and that her participation was as a private individual and not as an employee of Apple. Lynne Dundon recently ran into Grimm in a supermarket check-out lane, introduced herself as one of the parents still smarting from the "baby lust" remark. Grimm invited her out to the parking lot, saying she wanted to "beat the crap" out of her. Dundon declined the invitation.
Not all news traveling among the Project Russia veterans was negative, however. At least two couples from Utah did succeed in adopting children they saw in orphanages in Russia, and others were working on it through agencies.
@body:For Wendy, it was a long, damp winter in the flower shop, wading through the paperwork she needed to adopt Andrina, whom she now referred to as "my baby" in her letters to Peter Vassilev. She wired $800 to a Denver bank on Peter's behalf to carry on the negotiations. In a letter, he accepted that payment as the first week's pay--not a bad salary, especially for Moscow--and after that he would work for free. Secretly, she wondered if he was really doing the work he promised, if the humanitarian aid would end up on the black market. She wanted to trust her instincts, but they had been wrong before. "You can obviously tell I'm not a good judge of character," she jokes.
The letters plodded back and forth across the Atlantic for weeks. "A Russian 'no' is a 'yes' tomorrow and a 'maybe' the day after," she learned. The baby was eligible for adoption--and then perhaps not. Dr. Nina would hand her over even without an ultrasound machine, and then maybe not. And who was to say if such decisions were even within Dr. Nina's breadth of authority? Always she would know in two weeks, then two weeks more, then two weeks again.