Thursday, March 01, 2007

News: Fed Charges in Samoan Adopt Cases

This week a private US adoption agency and seven of its employees were charged in a Federal court indictment with 135 separate counts of adoption corruption related crimes.

The charges included 2 counts of conspiracy; 37 counts of bringing illegal aliens into the US; 37 counts of encouraging or inducing illegal aliens to come to, enter into, or reside in the US; 34 counts of visa fraud and misuse; 19 counts of money laundering; and 6 counts involving "monetary transactions [for] property derived from unlawful activity."

Four people have already been arrested and three more suspects are being sought.

The crimes of which the defendants, Focus on Children (FOC) of Wellsville, Utah and its employees, are accused, involve the fraudulent and illegal transfer of at least 80 children, aged from infancy to 12 years old, from their Samoan parents to US adoptive parents. These children came from 45 Samoan families and were adopted into 60 US families.

FOC allegedly charged $13,000 to facilitate each of the 80 adoptions and immigrations. (In case you don't feel like doing the math, 80 x $13,000 = $1,040,000 or, in other words, over a million $$$$)

According to the indictment, it seems that FOC allegedly lied to both the Samoan and the US adoptive parents to make these lucrative transfers of children--"international adoptions"--possible.

FOC allegedly preyed upon the Samoan parents and exploited their financially precarious situations by allegedly promising parents exactly what they wanted most for themselves and their children--a better life.

According to the Federal indictment, recruiters employed by FOC, used the following to induce parents to give up their children:

  • Samoan parents were told that they would only "temporarily" give up their children.

    In fact, if they signed relinquishment papers, parents were signing away their parental rights for always and forever.

  • Somoan parents were told that these temporary arrangements were a part of programs sponsored by the US Government and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church) to "assist families in Samoa who were struggling financially" or who wanted their children to have an opportunity to have an education in the US.

  • In fact, the US Government has no such program, nor does the the Mormon Church.

  • Samoan parents were told that their children would be "adopted" by a family in the US with whom the children would stay until they turned 18--after which the children would return to live in Samoa. During their time in the US, these children would stay in touch with their Samoan parents by letters and phone calls. Adoptive parents would also occasionally bring children to see their Samoan families.

    In fact, these children were legally adopted in the normal way by US adoptive parents. These adoptive parents, like ALL legal adoptive parents, have absolutely no ongoing legal obligations to their adoptive children's' first parents--for contact or otherwise--and certainly no obligation to return their legally adopted children to their first parents when those children become adults.

  • Samoan parents were told that if they placed children in this program that they might get financial assistance from either FOC or their children's adoptive parents.
    In fact in a normal adoption, adoptive parents certainly don't send money to first parents. This would raise extreme ethical issues if first parents' relinquishments were predicated on adoptive parents making ongoing financial payments to them.

    According to the indictment, in fact, Samoan parents were given "humanitarian assistance"--minimal amounts of money and some bags of rice--during the time period before children were placed with "adoptive parents." However, this humanitarian assistance allegedly ceased once children were actually placed with "adoptive parents."

Meanwhile...on the other side of the ocean...

According to the indictment, when dealing with prospective adoptive parents, FOC:

  • Often allegedly secured adoptive referrals for new families for "orphans" when those "orphans" were in fact still living with their first families.

    These were first families who were quite capable of keeping their children and who were only giving them up because they believed they were part of a temporary program. Culturally speaking, a scheme of this sort is believable to Samoan parents because in Samoan culture, children sometimes live parts of their childhood with extended family members and then return to their immediate family.

  • Often allegedly fabricated facts about the Samoan families from which these "orphans" came, and the dire situations in which these "orphans" were living.

According to press reports from a news conference held on Thursday, March 1, 2007 in Salt Lake City, Utah, both Samoan parents and US adoptive parents had no idea what was really going on and so "acted in good faith."

The legal status of the children involved is uncertain. Several children have already been returned to their Samoan parents. Authorities hope that Samoan parents and adoptive parents can work out solutions on a case by case basis as they are put in touch with each other. If that is not possible, courts in one or the other or both countries will have to become involved in determining the status of these children.

What is certain is that both Samoan and US adoptive parents are experiencing much pain.

According to a quotes in a story in The Salt Lake Tribune:

"For the birth parents in Samoa, who believed they were only temporarily releasing their children, the pain in palpable," Thomas Depenbrock, of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said at a Thursday news conference in Salt Lake City. "For the adoptive parents accepting children they were told were uncared for and in need of good homes, the deceit is shocking."

"It is impossible to articulate how deep the pain is," Tolman said of families on both sides.

There is also pain for the children themselves. Several of the older children tried to run away as they were being transferred from their homes in Samoa to the US.

The indictment alleges that the supposed conspiracy began no later than March 2002 and continued through June 2005.

The ongoing investigation is being done by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security; the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Interestingly, the US State Department had issued this advisory about adoptions from Samoa back in 2005:

Samoa Adoption Notice

Recently, a number of concerns about the international adoption process in Samoa have been brought to the attention of the U.S. government. U.S. citizens contemplating adoption in Samoa are strongly advised to exercise caution before proceeding with proposed adoptions.

US State Department: Samoa Adoption Notice

Considering that the indictments state that the alleged abuses occurred between 2002 and 2005, it would seem that the investigations which resulted in charges on March 1, 2007 probably began sometime in 2005.


Links to primary sources on-line:

Feds: UT Company Orchestrated Fraudulent Adoptions: Salt Lake City, 3/01/07 (includes a video)

Utah agency indicted in Samoa adoption scam, The Salt Lake Tribune, 3/01/07

Wellsville couple accused of operating baby-selling ring, (includes a video)


  1. Desiree,
    Thank you for this important blog. Your work to expose child trafficking is very important. As we move towards the implementation of the Hague Convention, some changes will strengthen the process. However, your history of the agency being unresponsive to the issues of your daughters are indicative of this unregulated industry. I am a social worker, with a history of adoption social work, and I wonder if you have attempted to have social work licensing boards review their behavior. I am startled by the fact that agencies seem to be continuing to expedite adoptions even when they have clear evidence of problems--such as in the current case of Guatemala. On that subject, please add the case of Mary Bonn to your blog. She is the American facilitator who has worked in Guatemala on countless cases. She is now facing immigration fraud charges in Florida. Also, with the US Embassy's (Guatemala) recent release of a list of unacceptable adoption workers, I suspect that there is a federal investigation of that situation. If the investigation of Cambodia/Galindo is any indicator of the outcome, I would imagine that there are some US adoption facilitators who are under the magnifying glass. Who knows what abuses will eventually be documented--whatever happens, the children of Guatemala (approximately 25,000 adopted by US citizens since 1990) will have a great deal of sadness to cope with as they unearth the past. By the way, if you haven't noticed, I am a fellow flea and my research focuses on Guatemala.

  2. The owners of the Focus on Children adoption agency should be sent to an island with no paper work, and be put to hard labor and let leeches bite them.

    The grief, agony and loss that these children will suffer will be life lasting. A mormon judge let his mormon criminals off the hook, the owners took no responsibility and kept claiming their innocence but then they finally plead guilty, and now they are convicted criminals. And they will always be convicted criminals for life and they will live with that label and the shame that accompanies it.

    Focus on Children, when were the children ever the focus? When was the children's welfare put first. Why were innocent children bartered for? This whole story is an example of Utah and it's long history of corruption and children being used as tools.

    Why does foodstuffs or refridgerators have to be hung in front of the noses of poor people in order to get them to sign "english documents" that are relinquishment of their own children