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Florida woman accused of defrauding Duluth couple seeking to adopt a child

Carrie Cutler1 / 2
Alyssa (left) and Todd Holmstrom of Duluth were hoping to adopt a child born to a Florida woman. Authorities say the woman had a miscarriage but continued to collect money from the Holmstroms for months. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa and Todd Holmstrom)2 / 2

A Florida woman faces two felony charges of adoption fraud after allegedly leading a Duluth couple to believe she was carrying a child meant for them — several months after she had a miscarriage.

Carrie Cutler, 31, was arrested Wednesday in Tampa. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Cutler received about $13,500 from Todd and Alyssa Holmstrom post-miscarriage for rent, food, medical and phone expenses.

The Holmstroms, who have been working toward adopting a child for nearly two years, had a pre-birth agreement with Cutler, signed in July 2015 though an adoption agency. Cutler gave the couple ultrasound pictures and said the expected due date was in March.

Alyssa Holmstrom, 30, said she had almost daily contact with Cutler via text message, at Cutler's insistence.

"In this position, you want to be as open and as receptive as possible," Alyssa Holmstrom said. "This person is carrying a child you hope to adopt."

Pinellas County detectives said Cutler visited a hospital for pregnancy complications in August, and was told she had miscarried the baby. But she didn't tell the Holmstroms or the adoption agency, and later sent a text message to the couple saying the baby was a girl, according to authorities. The Holmstroms continued to make payments to the adoption agency that were funneled to Cutler.

In October, the couple traveled to Tampa for a scheduled meeting with Cutler. The Holmstroms were told at the last minute that Cutler wouldn't be coming, and so they returned to Duluth. In February, Cutler told the Holmstroms and the adoption agency that the baby was doing well and that a Cesarean section birth was planned for March.

In March, Cutler told the Holmstroms her delivery had been postponed by doctors. The couple soon traveled back to Florida for the delivery, in hopes of returning home with the baby girl. They met with Cutler for the first time, and authorities said she continued to mislead the couple, at one point claiming the baby inside of her was "kicking" and pointing to her stomach.

Todd Holmstrom, 37, said neither noticed Cutler wasn't actually pregnant, because she is a heavyset woman.

"If I passed her and someone told me she was pregnant, I'd believe it," he said.

Days later, Cutler contacted the family and claimed that doctors miscalculated her due date, and she wasn't scheduled to give birth for another six weeks. The Holmstroms returned to Duluth.

"That would have put her at an 11-month pregnancy," Todd Holmstrom said. "She was hoping we'd go home and go away and not report it."

The adoption agency that month obtained records from the hospital Cutler used and learned about the miscarriage. The agency then reported what happened to authorities.

"We were hurt by (what happened) but mostly just kind of shocked that she thought we would never figure it out," Alyssa Holmstrom said.

"We were both devastated at first," Todd Holmstrom said, but the couple is trying again to adopt. "You know going in there is a risk of something falling apart. Granted, I never thought there would be a situation this extreme."

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Spencer Gross said Cutler had worked with the adoption agency before, successfully adopting out one of her children.

"There was no reason to believe this also wouldn't be a successful adoption," Gross said.

He said Cutler has a lengthy criminal history that includes grand theft, writing worthless checks and obtaining a vehicle using false representation. She is pregnant again, he said, although he couldn't say what her intentions with her current pregnancy were.

Not deterred

The Holmstroms were featured in a December News Tribune story along with other couples who had turned to crowdfunding online to raise money to help defray adoption costs, along with other fundraising measures. They now are out nearly $20,000 when considering adoption and travel expenses, but Alyssa Holmstrom said they were "well-educated" that they could lose that money, if a birth mother changed her mind, for example.

The experience hasn't deterred the Holmstroms from the process of adoption.

"There are kids who need to be adopted," Alyssa Holmstrom said. "To give up on that because of one person's bad decisions, then they win."

The family doesn't want to be portrayed as a "cautionary tale," she said, and let their emotions overshadow "the value of a child's life." They have a support system helping them deal with what happened, she said, and they're relying on their faith to cope.

"We feel like this is how our family is going to grow," Alyssa Holmstrom said, with hopes that the couple still will become parents. "We hit some bumps we definitely did not foresee. But we hope this crazy story will lead to an awesome situation.

"And we don't want anyone else to get hurt," she said. "If we had to go through it to protect somebody else, then great. I am OK with that."

To help

The couple had this past winter set up a youcaring.com account to raise money for adoption expenses. The account is still active. Go to youcaring.com and search for Holmstrom.

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