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The Salt Lake Tribune November 10, 2008
Found starving in a Romanian orphanage, Salvation Meauli and her brother were brought to Utah as babies - the first of several children adopted by Scott and Karen Banks.
But at age 9, Meauli and her brother were sent to live in American Samoa. The Bankses cited problems including failure to bond.
"I was actually excited and felt free for the first time in a long time," Meauli, now 18, said of the move. "I am finally surrounded by people who love and adore me for who I am."
Yet Meauli says the Bankses, charged in an unrelated matter with arranging fraudulent adoptions of Samoan children, have refused to provide documentation she and her brother need to prove their identities and begin their adult lives.
With no birth certificates or adoption papers, the siblings are unable to get driver licenses or passports. Although Meauli wants to attend Brigham Young University-Hawaii, without a Social Security number she can't even fill out an application.
"Right now we only want our passports done so that we can travel and finally be normal," Meauli said. "I have not left this island ever since I set foot on it."
Attempts to contact Scott and Karen Banks through their attorneys for comment were unsuccessful.
The couple's history with Meauli became public at a 1st District Court trial in February over whether they or another couple should get custody of a 4-year-old girl from China. The Bankses, who already had eight children - two biological, three adopted from Romania and three adopted from Russia - wanted to add the child to their family.
But Curry and Mary Frances Kirkpatrick, of Overland Park, Kan., say they arranged to adopt the child through Focus on Children, an agency operated by the Bankses. They say they placed her temporarily with the couple when they needed respite care. The Bankses claim the Kirkpatricks abandoned her.
Lawyer Steve Kuhnhausen, who represents the Kirkpatricks, argued the Bankses' history with their adopted children - including Meauli and her brother - made them unsuitable parents.
Meauli and her brother, named Auriel and Ethan Banks by the Bankses, were sent to American Samoa in 2000, Kuhnhausen said. Then, two years later, the other Romanian child the Bankses adopted, who has cerebral palsy and is now 17, was placed in a care facility in Orem.
Scott Banks testified that the boy had become too big for Karen to lift and help with daily living activities. He said Auriel and Ethan had severe behavioral problems, including being abusive toward their siblings.
At the time, the family was living in Wyoming and there were few services available to help them with their specific problems, Banks said. Neither Ethan nor Auriel bonded with him and his wife as they got older, he said.
"We were naive thinking that love would take care of all problems," Banks said.
He testified he and his wife sent them to American Samoa and agreed to pay a friend $500 a month until they reached adulthood.
Karen Banks, who found the three Romanian orphans, testified she has not seen or spoken to Auriel and Ethan since they left because she didn't want to interfere with them bonding with their new family.
"They didn't have an attachment to me," she said. "They would have walked away with anyone."
Judge Stanton Taylor granted custody of the Chinese child to the Bankses but delayed allowing the couple to adopt the girl until the criminal charges against them are resolved. The Kirkpatricks have appealed that custody decision to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Cathy Cevering, a North Logan visitation supervisor who learned about Auriel and Ethan through the 1st District case, tracked down the two through an online search. She has spent months trying to obtain their records for them but so far has been unable to find anything, including a record of Auriel and Ethan's entry into the United States or adoption papers, she said.
Meauli said Scott Banks recently e-mailed her a Social Security number but she has never received the card itself. She and Cevering have been unable to confirm that the number is really hers.
Meauli said she loves her American Samoan family and claims the Bankses "never really showed real compassion towards us." She and Ethan, who were born to different parents but whose adoption made them siblings, are close, "like PB&J," she said.
Despite living in the Samoan culture for years, Meauli is a typical American teen in many ways. She has a blog, loves Harry Potter and likes hanging out with friends. With excellent grades, she's ready to take the next step in her life.
"I want to be a vet when I grow up," she said. "I love animals so much."
Couple indicted in Samoan adoption case
A federal grand jury issued an indictment in 2007 charging Focus on Children agency operators Karen and Scott Banks and five agency employees with fraud and immigration violations. The indictment alleges the defendants tricked Samoan birth parents into putting their children up for adoption. The defendants have denied the allegations and are free pending trial.
Salvation Meauli, who now lives in American Samoa, says her adoptive parents in Utah refused to give the documents she and her brother need to prove their identities.