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McFeely: Anatomy of alleged adoption scam is tale of deep deception, lies

Betty Jo Krenz. Jamestown Sun file photo1 / 2
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The alleged level of deception is stunning and the number of lies staggering, really, in court documents involving the Woodworth, N.D., woman accused of running an adoption scam. And it was all for a shot at $1,800, or maybe a little more.

There's most likely not a price tag you can put on the confusion and heartbreak it caused.

There's a summons out for the arrest of Betty Jo Krenz, believed to be in her mid-40s, who was charged in Stutsman County this week with felony theft for luring a Medford, Ore., couple into a fictitious adoption scheme that had them believing they were going to adopt a baby from a Native American woman in South Dakota.

The 60 pages of reports from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office filed in district court read like a "Law & Order" episode. The tale began in early 2017 and continued until September when law enforcement was alerted.

Allegations include Krenz trying to convince a pregnant homeless woman to give up her baby, telling the Oregon family she had the baby lined up for adoption and concurrently leading an Idaho woman to believe there was another Native American baby available for adoption.

In the meantime, according to court papers, Krenz was running another scheme that involved taking people's personal information and using it to profit by selling pepper spray from a direct-sales company called Damsels in Defense.

Confusing? Yes, but Krenz's history is one of deception — despite once being viewed as enough of an expert in Native American affairs to be asked by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., to testify before a Congressional subcommittee. She appeared in a Cramer campaign advertisement in 2014.

Cramer was not the only one duped. National and regional media used Krenz as a go-to source after she said she was fired from her job as a Spirit Lake Indian Reservation social worker in 2011. She was mostly portrayed as a whistleblower terminated because she exposed child-abuse issues.

All this despite the fact Krenz had a long criminal history of forgery, counterfeiting and writing bad checks in North Dakota.

Court documents portray a woman who juggled deception masterfully. To what end isn't clear. Whether Krenz ever attempted to follow up and facilitate actual adoptions, or whether she had in the past, isn't addressed.

According to the documents, there were three women Krenz primarily involved in her alleged scam attempt — although there were several other women's names Krenz used to extract money or delay a promised adoption.

That includes Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, the murdered pregnant Fargo woman who had her baby removed from her womb in August 2017. Krenz told the Oregon woman she was assisting the FBI in the case and had to be placed in protective custody.

The pregnant, homeless woman is identified in the documents only as "JB," although earlier media reports identified her as Jodie Blackboy. Krenz knew Blackboy and began giving her money and offered her $500 as a gift to "catch up on bills" once she learned Blackboy was pregnant. Krenz also offered to help Blackboy get custody of her other three children.

Blackboy told investigators Krenz started to pressure her to give her new baby up for adoption. Blackboy said she never agreed to that and had no idea Krenz had another family lined up to adopt the girl.

Blackboy told investigators Krenz asked for photos of the baby once it was born in May. Those photos, documents say, were regularly sent to an Oregon woman identified as "AB." Earlier media reports identified her as Autym Burke, who along with her husband, had shown interest in adopting a Native American baby.

Burke and Krenz made contact with each other through an Idaho woman identified as "IW," who also was communicating with Krenz about adopting a Native American baby. Krenz told IW she'd be able to procure a baby from a 15-year-old pregnant girl who lived on a New Mexico reservation and had been raped. Krenz told IW the 15-year-old had a history of drug abuse and didn't want to keep the baby.

Krenz, who stayed with IW and her family for two weeks on a "home study" to see if they were fit to adopt, said she could use her connections to bypass "red tape" involving Native American babies.

But as the baby's alleged due date neared, Krenz's story began to change. She said the 15-year-old ran away from home and was trying to have a Caesarean section. Krenz then told IW the girl was in a youth detention center in Canada.

Then Krenz reported a baby boy had been born, but it had drugs in its system. Krenz eventually told IW the girl's family called off the adoption. IW said she didn't pay Krenz for adoption work, but did make a $400 donation to a foundation Krenz ran called Sacred Journey Lodge.

Burke told investigators Krenz initially said adopting Blackboy's baby was not a sure thing, but later told Burke that Blackboy was caught doing methamphetamines for the third time, was going to prison and the adoption was going to happen. Blackboy told the investigators she has never been in trouble for drugs and was not facing jail time.

Krenz had told Burke that the Sacred Journey Lodge foundation was going to cover the entire cost of the adoption and while Burke said "it seemed too good to be true, she and her family were ecstatic."

That's when Krenz's story again began to change. Krenz claimed a West Fargo woman had stolen $30,000 from the foundation, so Krenz needed $1,800 for adoption filing fees and plane tickets. Burke paid it, but found out the money was sent to Damsel in Defense.

Then Krenz claimed the paternity of the baby was being challenged — she originally told Burke the father of Blackboy's child was a rapist, but claimed the father might be a different man in a homeless shelter — and that would slow down the adoption process. Burke said she stayed confident because of Krenz's "connections to Congressman Cramer."

Burke told investigators Krenz had more excuses the next month for the delay. Documents say Krenz claimed to have possession of the baby, but a day before the Burkes were supposed to travel to obtain it, Krenz called to say she was going to get custody of LaFontaine-Greywind's baby and asked if Burke was interested in looking after it.

Krenz later told Burke the adoption of Blackboy's baby would be delayed because the FBI assigned a security detail to her for safety reasons. Krenz claimed she needed protection because she "ratted out" LaFontaine-Greywind's murderers.

Krenz later asked for another $2,700 for travel costs.

It was at this point Burke decided Krenz was lying. Burke confronted Krenz through text messages and phone calls and asked that the $1,800 be returned. Krenz sent Burke a check for that amount. Burke then contacted Blackboy to alert her of Krenz's activities, shared her story on Facebook and contacted authorities.

According to court papers, Krenz told investigators IW and Burke misunderstood her intentions. She said she told the families the babies were going to be placed with them only "as part of a safety plan for a safe place" and that she never told them adoption was a sure thing. Krenz said her role was to put Native American mothers in contact with good families in case adoption became necessary and that she never profited from it.

If convicted, the felonies with which Krenz is charged each carry a maximum $10,000 fine and five years in jail.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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