BOCA RATON, Fla. -- For 35 years, Michael Chalek was tormented with unfulfilled questions of his birth, his adoption and his true parents.
Now 47, he's condemned to know the answers.Chalek discovered he was sold for $200 by a baby broker after his young mother was coerced into giving him up under an assumed name, according to state records recently unsealed.
Although his adoptive parents and the baby broker are all dead, Chalek hopes a lawsuit filed this week in Alachua County will right some wrongs: He's asking to annul his adoption and get a new birth certificate with his true mother's name. And she's supporting his effort.
"By me doing that, it's making a statement that ought to be made," said Chalek, who moved a few months ago from Boca Raton to Estes Park, Colo. "I think the individuals involved in this ought to be exposed."
Chalek was born Jan. 25, 1952, in Jacksonville to Winnie Faye Higginbotham Yarber, a barroom waitress who had separated from her husband and became pregnant by another man.
Eight days after the birth, records show the child -- then known as Baby Barnwell -- went home with Alex and Adela Chalek, who had contacted baby broker Lenora Fielding when they were not successful at having their own child.
Although private adoptions such as those set up by Fielding were not legal, laws were not as strict then and such arrangements were largely ignored, said Josette P. Marquess, coordinator of the Florida Adoption Reunion Record.
At age 11, Michael Chalek found out he was adopted and he became obsessed with wanting to know about his birth family.
"It burned in my lower gut all the time," he said Tuesday. "I always wondered every single day who I really was."
In 1981, Chalek found a document that named the hospital where he was born.
Seventeen years later, a judge granted Chalek access to his confidential records -- something rarely done in Florida without a compelling medical need, Marquess said.
Amid the 100 pages were notes from state case workers that showed Fielding coerced Chalek's birth mother into using a false name on documents and that his mother had even asked a state worker if she could get her baby back.
The mother -- now Winnie Faye Whitaker -- welcomed the telephone call this past December when Chalek finally found her. His birth father died sometime in the 1970s.
"I didn't want to give him up -- but I was so young," said Whitaker, now 70. "I asked if I could just get the baby back, and they told me no. I'd already signed the papers."
Whitaker said she supports Chalek's petition to have those papers annulled.
Attorney Mallory Horne, former Florida Senate president and House speaker who filed the petition on Chalek's behalf, said Chalek was angered by the fact his parents paid a baby broker for him.
She said Chalek had hoped to sue the attorney who brought his adoption to the court and the judge who approved it -- both now elderly men -- but she advised him he'd have no case.