FARMINGTON An Ogden woman who has apparently made a career of finding and reuniting adopted children with their birth parents now stands accused of pilfering hundreds of sealed adoption records from the 2nd District Courthouse.
Davis County prosecutors have charged Jill Ekstrom with 21 counts of altering public records, a class A misdemeanor. Originally, Ekstrom, 43, was charged with one count of second-degree felony theft, but prosecutors later amended the charges.
"How do I put a value on somebody's privacy?" deputy Davis County attorney Rick Westmoreland said Tuesday. "There's a reason those records are sealed."
Attempts to reach Ekstrom for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful. A phone number listed for her in court records was disconnected. Her attorney, Dee Smith, was in court and did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
On the Internet, Ekstrom touted her business, UtahFinders, as helping to reunite adopted children and their birth parents. Many have spoken glowingly about her work in TV interviews and newspaper profiles, praising her for bringing long-lost families together again.
According to a probable cause statement filed with the criminal charges, Ekstrom is accused of going through microfilm records at the courthouse in February 2006.
"Shortly thereafter, clerks found microfilm involving several hundred cases concerning adoptions were missing, which were in the same area defendant had been seen," Davis County sheriff's deputy Jon West wrote. "Defendant was found to have a business which helped people locate natural parents of adoptive children. A sting was set up where defendant was contacted on behalf of one of the missing files. Defendant charged $850 to find the natural parents and was able to locate the mother of the adopted child."
Each count of altering public records is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
At the courthouse, the microfilm is supposed to be in an area not accessible to the public. Prosecutors declined to say how Ekstrom allegedly got back there, but admit she was known around the courthouse. The charging documents claim Ekstrom's daughter told police that she had between a dozen and 50 rolls of microfilm in her possession from the Farmington courthouse and the LDS Family History Center.
"If you get your hands on those, even if you got 10 of those people to pay between $800 and $1,000 that's not bad money," Westmoreland said.
Ekstrom's work is not illegal, if both parties agree to it. She could also petition a judge to unseal part or all of an adoption record on behalf of one of her clients. Under Utah law, adoption records are sealed for 100 years. The Utah Department of Health's vital statistics bureau operates a "mutual consent voluntary adoption registry" which releases information only when both sides register and both sides are over 21.UtahFinders' business license lapsed in 2006, and the Web site for the business is no longer working. Ekstrom is scheduled to appear in court on the charges on Monday in Brigham City's 1st District Court. The case was transferred there because of the Farmington courthouse's involvement in the case.