Adoption broker gets 18 months

Date: 2004-11-20

Woman falsified records, placed children stolen from homes

PAUL SHUKOVSKY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

A federal judge sentenced a woman working with a Mercer Island adoption agency to 18 months in prison yesterday on charges stemming from her brokering the adoption of impoverished Cambodian children who were not orphans.

In some cases, the adoption was sealed with a cash payment to the birth mother.

Lauryn Galindo pleaded guilty to money laundering and visa fraud for lying about the background of children she placed for adoption largely through Seattle International Adoptions Inc.

She operated the agency with her sister, Lynn Devin, from Devin's Mercer Island home. Because Galindo's fraud included falsifying the children's names, dates of birth, places of birth and family history, the majority of the approximately 800 children she placed will have no way to find their Cambodian families.

Although most of the adoptions she arranged have resulted in happy families raising healthy children, her actions have wreaked havoc on many lives.

Before a courtroom gallery packed with people who have benefited from Galindo's services, federal prosecutors Jim Lord and Michael Barr related heart-wrenching tales of terrified children literally torn from their mothers' arms.

One such story was identified by U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly as "setting the tone," and led Zilly to say that the children "have been robbed in many instances of their identity."

Before denying a request from public defender Jay Stansell that he sentence Galindo to probation, Zilly read excerpts of a story by Camryn Mosley from court documents that began:

"Just over five years ago, I was a 9-year-old girl named Song Kea living in a small house at Siorgram Commune, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, with my older sister, Le, and her husband, Sayha, who was a chef at a big restaurant, and their baby son, Vitbol. Our older brother, Muot, also lived with us.

"A short walk from our house lived my aunts -- all of them were my mother's sisters. We were all close. I loved to play with all of my cousins. Every day I went to school -- my family were very proud of me because I was such a good student.

"On the weekend, I used to take care of Vitbol, while my sister cooked food to sell at the market. I also used to help with the farm that we had where we grew vegetables and rice. We did not have much money, but we all helped each other. We always had food and clothes. We were happy and loved each other.

"One day, a man stopped me and told me to go and ask my family if I could live in America. ...

"Suddenly, they told me I would go to Phnom Penh that day and meet my new mother. I didn't say goodbye to my sister, or anyone else ... I was scared."

The youngster said that as the months and years passed, her pain of loss has eased, but she still carries thoughts of her Cambodian family in her heart.

"I may not have had parents in Cambodia who could give me all the best things in life, but I had a family who loved me."

The girl's adoptive parents, Anthony and Judith Mosely wrote the court that "we were assured that our daughter was an orphan and had been living in an orphanage for over four years" and that nothing was known of her family.

Other stories related instances in which adoptive mothers took a child from the arms of a woman they were told was a nanny when in fact the woman was actually the biological mother giving up the baby for less than $100. American adoptive parents who have been deceived find themselves "agonized over what has been done."

Stansell sought to convince Zilly that his client should get a lighter sentence because more than 98 percent of her adoptions did not involve such manipulations.

Among the adoptions Galindo brokered was that of actress Angelina Jolie.

Stansell said that Galindo had made substantial charitable contributions to orphanages in Cambodia. He described her as being motivated by a single-minded obsession with saving youngsters from the grinding poverty of Cambodia. It was an obsession driven by mental illness, he said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Lord, while acknowledging "that she has done some good," said her altruism shifted to greed in 1997 when Galindo and her sister set up the adoption agency.

Galindo says she "provided crucial, sustaining financial and material support" to a number of orphanages and has given "hundreds of thousands of dollars to other projects and organizations in Cambodia and elsewhere."

Special Agent Richard Cross with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that each adoption cost $11,500, totaling $9.2 million for all 800.

And while $2.8 million was supposed to go to support orphanages, the miserable conditions in the institutions do not support that the money was actually delivered.

Cross traveled to Cambodia where he "saw an unattended baby lying in a pool of urine on the linoleum floor," as well as buildings that smelled of feces and no evidence of "food, formula or cribs."

Before sentencing Galindo, Zilly noted that she had performed "a substantial amount of charitable and public service."

But he went on to say that that charitable work put Galindo in the position to "deliberately erase children's identity ... take children away from parents without consent ... work with orphanages that have been accused of child trafficking.

"The children who were taken from their families improperly, illegally, far outweighs the good you did."

In addition to 18 months in prison, Galindo must forfeit $1.4 million in equity in her home on the north coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the cash value of her Jaguar and other assets.

Zilly also ordered her to pay almost $68,000 in restitution to seven families for whom she arranged adoptions, including the Mosleys.

After the hearing, Stansell said he and Galindo are considering an appeal of the sentence. Stansell, who has spent substantial time in Cambodia, sought to portray the moral ambiguity of the situation in that country, where children die of malnutrition and others are sold into prostitution. His client, said Stansell, dedicated herself to saving such children.

Galindo declined to comment after the hearing but handed a reporter a statement that began: "My intention was to save children from desperate circumstances. I felt that I was always acting with the highest integrity in the most difficult conditions."
P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or paulshukovsky@seattlepi.com

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