Guilty plea in federal adoption fraud case

Date: 2004-06-24

Maureen O'Hagan
Seattle Times

A woman who operated a Seattle adoption agency with her sister pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to visa fraud, money laundering and currency structuring, admitting that some Cambodian children she had adopted out as orphans did, in fact, have parents.

Lauryn Galindo, 53, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, but her lawyers say that under federal sentencing guidelines, it likely will be substantially less. She will be sentenced Sept. 24.

For years Galindo had been praised for her humanitarian work with Cambodian children, and she had boasted actress Angelina Jolie among her clients.

"Every child has (his or her) own story," Galindo told The Seattle Times in a 1997 feature story. One of the most common stories was that the child's mother or father was killed in land-mine explosions while tending rice paddies, she said.

According to the plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Seattle, prospective parents paid $10,500 to $11,500 for each adoption. As part of the deal, several thousand dollars would go to Cambodian government officials to "facilitate" the process. Meanwhile, the adoptive parents were instructed to fill out immigration paperwork by stating that the children's birth parents were "unknown."

But Galindo knew that the children had one or more living parents or "acted in deliberate ignorance of the truth," according to the plea deal, which covered the period from 1997 through 2001.

In other court documents, prosecutors said that parents in the poverty-stricken nation were paid as little as $100 to give their children up for adoption. Then the children were brought into the United States by fraud and adopted under false pretenses, court documents say.

It's unclear how many adoptions of this sort were done, but Galindo and other unidentified conspirators received $93,700 for the adoptions to which she pleaded guilty, the documents say.

The currency structuring charge stems from an incident in Hawaii, where Galindo lives, in which she made bank transactions in such a way as to evade notice by the federal government, which requires banks to report transactions of more than $10,000.

The government has said the status of the children and their adoptive parents is not in jeopardy.

Galindo's federal public defender, Jay Stansell, said that at sentencing he will "put the case in context of Cambodia and her whole life. We want people to know who Lauryn Galindo is and what her work was."
 
She continues to do humanitarian work while she is out on bond, he said, and has asked permission to travel to Cambodia and elsewhere before sentencing as part of that mission. A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow on that issue.

She and her sister, Lynn Devin of Mercer Island, operated Seattle International Adoptions and arranged hundreds of adoptions starting in the late 1990s. Devin pleaded guilty in December to related charges and has not yet been sentenced.

They both have agreed to forfeit all property connected with the criminal acts. At the time of her arrest, Galindo had an expensive beachfront home.

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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