Amid an embezzlement investigation, did the co-founder of Fargo’s infant loss group lie about the baby’s birth and death? – InForum

FARGO — A woman who helped start a well-known nonprofit in the city that helps mothers who have lost babies could face charges of embezzlement from the organization.

The Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office is reviewing Fargo police investigative reports after allegations surfaced that Kayla Sorum embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the group she worked for and had helped found: The Hopeful Heart Project.

But the embezzlement allegations may just be the start of a strange and disturbing tale of alleged deception.

The Fargo-Moorhead Hopeful Heart Project is known for its great work with moms coping with tragic baby loss, miscarriage or sudden death at birth. In fact, WDAY did a story about the nonprofit when it was organized, and Kayla Sorum was one of those moms.

“But by the time I got to the hospital, Hope… her heart had already stopped beating,” Sorum said in a 2018 interview as she told the story of her loss. Sorum said baby Hope died after placental abruption.

Sorum continued to fundraise with other mothers, chatting with groups and donors sharing the story of her loss. She was in charge of operations for the charity. But Sorum was fired from the charity following allegations of embezzlement, which Fargo police investigated and turned over documents to the Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office.

No charges have been filed. The alleged embezzlement has left other mums in the group, like co-founder Jen Burgard, frustrated and bewildered.

“A newer organization, okay, where every dollar counts, and for something at that level to happen…it’s devastating,” Burgard said.

But WDAY News has uncovered exhibits from court documents that point to something the nonprofit says is even more troubling: Sorum’s story about Baby Hope. Was it all a lie?

Drew Balstad says he dated Kayla Sorum, but months after the relationship ended in July 2016, Sorum told Drew she was pregnant.

“Yeah, that was obviously shocking because I didn’t expect that to happen, but I was just wondering, what are the options here?” said Balstad.

He was shocked but agreed to co-parent the baby and started looking for even more daycare.

“Make up a birth plan, figure out custody arrangements, all of that. I set up a nursery. We had everything you would need to expect a baby, because we did it,” Balstad said.

But there would be no co-parenting baby. Sorum told Drew the baby died at birth in Sanford.

“It was the most difficult experience of my life, and it was overwhelming. All that anticipation leading up to what you think is a happy event, and it’s quite the opposite,” Balstad said.

Drew says he was asked to pay hospital and funeral costs, but Balstad says Sorum couldn’t produce any bills or receipts.

“Let’s sit down and look at all the bills and we can figure out a way to split them up and figure out the payment plan or whatever you need to do. I didn’t see any bills…nothing existed,” Balstad said. .

According to court records, a check with the North Dakota Department of Health produced no death or birth certificates for the baby. And WDAY has learned from sources close to the investigation that Sanford has no record of the baby’s birth that day, Feb. 15, 2017.

“It’s something official, at the time we didn’t have anything official saying that, but when we go to the state and ask them to give me the death report of my kid, and they don’t have it, that’s pretty official,” Balstad said.

The charity’s co-founder, Jen, had access to Sorum’s Amazon account.

“It was a rabbit hole,” she said.

According to exhibits filed by Balstad, Sorum had ordered a lifelike doll from Amazon. Which, according to these exhibits filed in a restraining order case, Sorum sent to friends, following what she called the loss of her daughter.

“When I was on the tablet and saw these dolls, my heart sank. I knew. Everything snowballed,” Burgard said.

“It’s a crazy story, there are a lot of them,” Balstad said.

According to these exhibits, Sorum even had hospital bracelets that appeared to be from Sanford.

“It (the wristbands) must be something that says it’s true, and looking into that some more, we realized that Sanford weren’t using those wristbands, they were basically Essentia wristbands that they doctored,” Balstad said.

Exhibits say Sorum used random baby photos on social media sites to stage herself, and even got called out by someone in another state.

“She could have stopped at any time,” Balstad said.

There was a birth announcement, even invitations to a funeral. Drew, who obtained a restraining order against Sorum, says Sorum offered to drop memorabilia.

“She says she has molds for hands and feet, I don’t know where she’s from,” Balstad said.

We have contacted Sorum for comment. We haven’t had a response. But in court papers to seal off all those earlier court documents, she wrote: “One of the allegations in this case is that I faked my pregnancy and the death of my child. I am horrified by this. caused a great deal of emotional and professional harm as rumors of these unsubstantiated allegations circulated.”

In the meantime, the nonprofit hopes to change its name but continue its mission to help moms who have lost babies, while as an organization grapples with months of anger and pain.

“One-punch is a great way to describe it, because we were taken advantage of so blatantly,” Burgard said.

The Hopeful Heart Project website can be found

here.

Comments are closed.