Scott woman pleads guilty in adoption fraud case

Mike Still • Updated Jun 26, 2019 at 5:30 PM

GATE CITY — A Nickelsville woman charged with defrauding a California couple in a 2018 adoption arrangement pleaded guilty to eight felonies and a misdemeanor Wednesday in Scott County Circuit Court.

Local television news crews and a camera and production crew from “Inside Edition” manned the Scott County Courthouse steps while they waited for a glimpse of 34-year-old defendant Elizabeth Ann Jones.

A 32-member jury pool had assembled before 9 a.m. and waited until just before 11 as prosecution and defense attorneys met in chambers with Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hamilton to work out final details of the plea agreement. Hamilton then sent the pool out of the courtroom before quizzing Jones about her understanding of and agreement with the terms of her plea.

Jones showed little reaction as Hamilton sentenced her to two years in prison and eight years suspended for her scheme to commit fraud against Orange County couple Matt and Laura Trayte.

The Traytes in September 2018 encountered Jones through a Facebook page and website the couple set up to search for expecting mothers willing to let them adopt a child.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III, special prosecutor in the case, told Hamilton that Jones had sent the couple an ultrasound photo and a stuffed unicorn toy with a sound player containing what she claimed was the baby’s heartbeat.

Jones, hair pulled back into a bun, sat between defense attorneys Thomas Baker and Mickey Shull as Slemp recounted evidence he had planned to present.

The Traytes visited Jones in Scott County on various occasions, Slemp said. The three went to a photographer for baby announcement photos, to a doctor for another ultrasound and to a lawyer for a power of attorney. He said the couple at various times in 2018 also paid for restaurant meals for Jones and her family, baby clothes, a massager and Disney Store toys for Jones’ children.

Slemp said the scheme fell apart after Thanksgiving when Jones told the Traytes she had gone into pre-term labor and sent them photos of a bloody toilet and sheets. The couple then flew from California to meet Jones first at Indian Path Community Hospital and at Holston Valley Medical Center. At Holston Valley, Slemp said, the couple found Jones being treated for back pain before discovering she was not pregnant.

“She told a probation officer, ‘Maybe I wanted someone to feel pain other than me,’ ” Slemp said.

Jones also pleaded to a misdemeanor obstructing justice charge for threatening Laura Trayte on Facebook with obscenities.

Jones was under probation for a July 2018 Scott County felony credit card fraud charge and five misdemeanor larceny charge convictions at the time of the offenses involving the Traytes, Slemp said. Jones had also been convicted in March 2018 for misdemeanor credit card fraud in Russell County and in Sullivan County for felony identity theft in August.

Hamilton said the felony charges — normally all misdemeanors because they involved obtaining money or goods of less than $500 under false pretenses — were upgraded because Jones had been convicted twice of similar charges before the Trayte affair. Hamilton also ordered her to pay $244.06 restitution — the cost of the restaurant meals, baby clothes, massager and toys the couple bought for Jones before her scheme was discovered.

Jones was also sentenced to five years probation. If she violates probation, the suspended felony charges will result in consecutive prison sentences. Each of the felony counts carries a maximum five-year prison term.

Hamilton gave Jones until 7 p.m. Friday to report to the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail. As she left the courthouse, Jones hid her face as the “Inside Edition” camera crew chased her to her vehicle.

Slemp later said he had been requested to handle the case by Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Johnson because Johnson had represented Jones in the 2018 Scott County convictions before he became county prosecutor.

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