A MANAGER of a Latino social-service agency has been falsely telling the agency's foster parents that two women who spoke out to the Daily News about a foster child's abortion are headed to jail, according to several sources.
The agency, Concilio, also has updated its confidentiality policies since the People Paper published allegations that the Department of Human Services coerced the 16-year-old into having a late-term abortion.
Concilio began to hold small group meetings on May 21 for its 30 or so foster parents to discuss confidentiality rules and to have them sign the new contracts.
A source said that during a June 5 meeting, a woman read a letter in English said to be from DHS commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose that was interpreted into Spanish by Concilio's foster-care coordinator, Jheovannie Williams.
"Lawyers for the city and for Concilio will sue the newspaper and the social worker and the person who was a foster [parent]," Williams told the foster parents, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "The sentence could be five to 10 years in jail."
When informed of the letter, DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said: "The commissioner did not write a letter like this. She knows nothing about it."
Repeated calls and e-mails from the Daily News seeking comment were not returned by Concilio executive director Joanna Otero-Cruz or board president Tony Valdes.
"What this sounds like is a massive campaign of fear and intimidation by an agency [Concilio] that has shown itself to have failed miserably," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
"Being forced to sign gag orders while allegedly being told that somebody who spoke out is going to jail - if that's what they're saying - that's a scare tactic," Wexler said.
City spokesman Douglas Oliver said that the foster mother had violated HIPAA by revealing confidential information about her charge.
Several attorneys familiar with HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law regarding the privacy of medical records, said that a violation could be pursued only by the feds and that the women who spoke with the paper would never see a day behind bars in this case.
"Criminal sanctions? I doubt it very much," said a lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Who's going to prosecute that? They are not going to get a U.S. attorney to prosecute that."
The alleged scare tactics began May 3 when the People Paper published claims made by former foster mother Luz Navarro, 50. Navarro said that she overheard a DHS caseworker tell the teen, already a mother and at least six months' pregnant, that she would be separated from her toddler and the unborn child if she went to term.
The teen's social worker, Marisol Rivera, 51, was later fired. Rivera believes that she was dismissed because she had at first refused to accompany the teen to her abortion procedure based on religious beliefs.
The teen, her child and two other minors were removed from Navarro's home by Concilio the day her allegations appeared in the paper.
The new 24-page contract, obtained by the People Paper, says that Concilio's foster parents are forbidden to share "the child's history with neighbors, friends, relatives or any other persons(s) not directly involved with the professional care of the child."
The previous confidentiality agreement was about four to six pages in length, said Robert Newton, a former Concilio foster-care social worker who was terminated in March 2009.
Rivera and other sources familiar with Concilio's policies said that confidentiality was never a priority before the stories ran in the newspaper.
During the confidentiality meeting earlier this month, Williams told the group in Spanish "don't believe the lies in the newspaper and don't believe the people who are united to create chaos," a source said.
Other sources, including former co-workers and someone who attended a different meeting, also said that Williams told them that the two women would go to jail.
Perhaps Williams should have given the new agreement a once-over himself.
According to former Concilio supervisor Ruth Cabrera, she spoke with a "traumatized" Williams a few days after the teen's abortion. Williams had driven the agency's van to the abortion clinic in New Jersey on March 17 with the minor, her 1-year-old daughter, Rivera and Navarro.
Cabrera told him that she had heard about the girl, who was six months' pregnant, but Williams immediately corrected her.
"No, Ruth, she wasn't six months' pregnant, she was seven months' pregnant," she recalled him saying, in an interview conducted in Spanish.
Williams also disparaged Rivera, formerly his good friend, at an American Legion event on May 2, said Cabrera, who worked at Concilio for 15 years.
"He told me the situation was 'hot' and Marisol had taken the wrong tactic . . . and that she will face criminal charges. And I said, 'Why? She hasn't killed anyone,' " Cabrera recalled.
Other Concilio workers also apparently discussed the case.
News of the teen's abortion had already spread in the community shortly after it happened and weeks before the Daily News story was published, Cabrera said. In April, Cabrera went to a North Philadelphia hair salon frequented by some Concilio managers.
When she arrived for her appointment, the salon's stylists already knew about the pregnant, underage girl at Concilio who had had an abortion.