Adoption scandal has prompted only minor changes. Focus on Children » Defendants in the case likely to get probation.

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Feb 14, 2009, 4:10:18 PM2/14/09

Adoption scandal has prompted only minor changes
Focus on Children » Defendants in the case likely to get probation.
By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
Posted: 02/14/2009

A federal indictment accusing a Wellsville agency and its workers of
tricking parents in Samoa into giving up their children marked a rare
prosecution in the international adoption industry.
But the use of trickery, coercion or kidnapping in foreign countries
to place children with American families is far from unusual,
according to advocates with watchdog groups who say the Focus on
Children case bolsters their calls for reform.
"There's no real consequences now," David Smolin, a law professor in
Alabama and the parent of an internationally adopted child, said of
agencies and adoption facilitators accused of wrongdoing.
To stem abuses, Smolin and others are pushing for national adoption
laws to replace a patchwork of state laws; limiting the amount of
money involved in the adoption of foreign children to prevent human
trafficking; and making U.S. agencies responsible for the actions of
their overseas contractors. They also want more prosecutions and
harsher punishment for offenders.
Kimberly Kennedy, a board member of Parents for Ethical Adoption
Reform (PEAR), is urging U.S. District Judge David Sam to impose
significant sentences when defendants in the FOC case are sentenced
later this month. Under plea deals, the U.S. Attorney's Office is
recommending probation.
"What this agency did in Samoa will have long lasting effects for
families and children," Kennedy, the California parent of
internationally adopted children,
wrote to the judge.
A 2007 federal indictment accused the defendants of coercing and
tricking parents in Samoa into placing their children for adoption,
then falsely claiming that the children were orphans. Five defendants
have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts.
Barbara McArtney, an attorney in Grand Island, N.Y., who runs an
accredited adoption agency and serves on PEAR's board, said
prosecutions of U.S. adoption agencies are rare.
One of the few prosecutions similar to FOC's was the case of Lauryn
Galindo, who was accused of falsifying immigration documents to make
it appear that Cambodian children placed for adoption through her
agency were abandoned.
In fact, prosecutors alleged, some of the children were bought from
their parents for small amounts of money and Galindo, in turn, charged
adoptive parents in the United States large fees. She pleaded guilty
to several charges, including visa fraud and money laundering, and was
sentenced in 2004 to 18 months in prison.
Many nations, including the United States, have signed on to the Hague
Convention on International Adoptions, an agreement among the
participants to follow certain procedures. However, enforcement can be
difficult and some countries, such as Samoa, are not parties to the
"No one is watching on a federal level," said Joni Fixel, a Michigan
lawyer who has represented prospective adoptive parents in lawsuits
against adoption agencies. "We need another department in the
Department of Homeland Security to make sure these types of cases
don't happen. We don't want to become a haven for children being
illegally adopted."
In addition, American adoption agencies are regulated by states. PEAR
board member David Kruchkow said if a problem arises with an
international adoption, states generally say they have no authority
over the case.
That, in turn, leads to federal prosecutions for misdemeanor visa
violations, said Kruchkow, a Florida high-school science teacher.
Kruchkow said he and his wife were victimized when they adopted a
little girl from Mexico, a Hague Convention country, in the late
1990s. They later learned that a Mexican lawyer and two consultants in
New York, where the Kruchkows lived at the time, had forged their
daughter's paperwork.
Both McArtney and Smolin believe capping fees connected to adoptions
could curb many problems. The amount paid to facilitators and lawyers
overseas for identifying children for adoption and completing their
country's paperwork can be multiple times the average annual income of
the country, according to Smolin, who teaches at Samford University in
Birmingham, Ala., and has written extensively about international
Smolin also proposes making American agencies legally responsible for
the actions of their foreign partners, saying many U.S. placement
agencies have a "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" attitude toward how
adoptees are obtained overseas.
Federal prosecutors charged two Samoan citizens who helped Focus on
Children locate children for adoption -- Tagaloa Ieti and Julie
Tuiletufuga -- but the government has so far been unable to extradite
The criminal case against FOC doesn't address the status of the Samoan
children who were placed for adoption. However, Tom DiFilipo,
president and CEO of the Joint Council on International Children's
Services, an association of adoption and child advocacy groups in
Alexandria, Va., said because the children are U.S. citizens, it is
very unlikely they would be sent back to Samoa.
But they may be back in contact with their birth families. The plea
agreements require the defendants to pay into a fund to facilitate
communication between both sets of parents.
Smolin likes the idea. He and his wife, Desiree, adopted two
adolescent girls from India whose birth mother, they later learned,
had been told her children would be temporarily placed in a boarding
The couple were able to eventually track down the mother and take the
girls to visit her. But keeping the girls in touch with their mother
has been costly, Smolin said.
"If they get the (FOC) trust fund together, the children ought to go
back a few weeks every year," he said.
Lisa Rosetta contributed to this article.

The Focus on Children case
Five agency operators and employees will be sentenced on Feb. 19 and
25 for misdemeanor offenses involving the adoptions of Samoan
In January, Focus on Children principals Karen and Scott Banks; Dan
Wakefield, who located Samoan children for adoption; and caseworkers
Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock pleaded guilty to counts of
aiding and abetting the improper entry of an alien for putting false
information on immigration forms.
Their plea agreements have a recommendation for probation, but U.S.
District Judge David Sam could impose up to six months on each count
and a $5,000 fine.
Focus on Children, which arranged adoptions of children from a number
of foreign countries, ceased business in Utah in the summer 2007.
The prosecution halted all international adoptions in Samoa. Earlier
this month, Attorney General Ming C. Leung Wai said overseas adoptions
are allowed only if the application certifies the child does not have
a family or suitable person to provide care and no other suitable
arrangements can be made in Samoa.

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