Defendants in Samoan adoption scandal to plead guilty Tuesday


Focus on Children » Operators, employees of Wellsville adoption agency accused of fraud in placement of children

January 05, 2009
Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune

Five Utahns accused of fraud and immigration violations in the adoptions of Samoan children by U.S. parents are slated to plead guilty Tuesday.

Change-of-plea hearings, where defendants typically admit guilt under a deal with prosecutors, are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. before U.S. District Judge David Sam in Salt Lake City.

Four defendants -- Karen Banks, Scott Banks, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock -- will appear at the morning hearing; the fifth, Dan Wakefield, is scheduled to enter his plea at the afternoon hearing. The five are former operators and employees of the Focus on Children adoption agency in Wellsville.

The U.S. government has been unable to extradite the other two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga.

A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City issued a 135-count indictment in February 2007 charging the defendants with conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The charges, which target 37 of 81 Samoan adoptions by the Focus on Children agency in Wellsville between 2002 and mid-2005, stemmed from a federal investigation triggered by suspicious immigration officials.

The indictment claims the Focus on Children workers falsely told Samoan parents that children they placed for adoption would return to them. In the United States, prospective adoptive parents allegedly were told that the youngsters were orphans or abandoned by families who could not care for them -- claims that were false.

The defendants have all been free pending resolution of the case.


Focus on Children Adoption

Focus on Children Adoption agency and The Banks
This story has been one of the hottest topics on adoption. I have these social workers who are friends with the Banks and their merry band of criminals commenting on my blog for a while now. They all claim that they were innocent and set up. There is enough evidence out there that states otherwise. They have even plead guilty to the crimes. As soon as they made a plea agreement, it seems that all judgment went out the window. They just have to release a press release telling folks how wrong it is perform adoptions in this fashion. They are currently supposed to get five years probation. They have to contribute monthly to an account set up for the natural and adoptive families that will pay for communications between them.

I have only skated on this issue in various parts of my blog. I have not delved into the depths of the horrors committed by the Banks and their family members. Today I decided that it was wise to do this. If you want to view their tax returns, you can sign up for a free account over at Guidestar. That is one of the most useful tools in researching non profit agencies.

The address of both of these agencies needs to be addressed here.

Karen Banks had the books stored at this address:

65 East 600 North
Wellsville, Utah

The sister agency was located at the following address:

405 Sage St.
Cokeville, Wyoming

Look on a map yourself. These two agencies were located approximately 100 miles away from each other. Both of these towns are near the borders of each state. Karen Banks ran the one in Utah and Dana Thornock still runs the one in Wyoming. Keep in mind these two sister agencies filed their tax returns as one agency. Both agencies were licensed in Utah initially and then Wyoming. They however did much of their work outside those states and in other countries. The alarm bells should be ringing in your head right now.

1. First Rule of Thumb - Follow the Money.

In 2004, Focus on Children earned the following funds:

Gross Receipts were $831,990
Karen Banks, the President of the Board of Directors earned $26,000.
Danalee Thornock was the Secretary of the Board.
Robert Skillman was the Chairman of the Board..
Deanne Olsen was a board member.
Anna Dvoretsky was a board member.
Dan Wakefield, Foreign Coordinator, earned $130,481.
Yakov A. Dvoretsky, Foreign Coordinator, earned $61,148.
They paid $728.00 in license fees. They paid $229,244 in professional fees.

In 2005, Focus on Children earned the following funds

Gross Receipts were $583,723.
Karen Banks, the President of the Board of Directors earned $16,000.
Danalee Thornock was the Secretary of the Board.
Robert Skillman was the Chairman of the Board..
Deanne Olsen was a board member.
Anna Dvoretsky was a board member..
Yakov A. Dvoretsky, Foreign Coordinator, earned $78,701.
They paid no licensing fees for that year. They paid $128,191 in professional fees.

In 2006, Focus on Children earned the following funds

Gross Receipts were $879,073.
Karen Banks, the President of the Board of Directors earned $16,000.
Danalee Thornock was the Secretary of the Board and earned $1,000.
Robert Skillman was the Chairman of the Board..
Deanne Olsen was a board member.
Anna Dvoretsky was a board member..
Yakov A. Dvoretsky, Foreign Coordinator, earned $99,645..
They paid no licensing fees for that year. They paid $128,191 in professional fees.

In the news it was reported that the offices of theses organizations were sister agencies. Each agency was licensed in Utah and Wyoming. They filed their tax returns as one. Dana Thornock is the sister of Karen Banks. This is not however in their tax statements. They show no relation whatsoever. There is no mention of the Banks being married either. In order to receive COA accreditation, this must be stated up front. In many tax forms, this is usually announced on a certain statement. None of this is mentioned in the tax returns. There are several people charged in this case: Scott Banks, Karen Banks, Dan Wakefield, Tagaloa Leti, Julie Tuiletufuga, Coleen Bartlett, Karalee Thornock. Karen and Scott Banks were American citizens living in Wellsville, Utah. Colleen Bartlett resided in Wyoming. Karalee Thornock resided in Tooele, Utah. Karalee Thornock is also the daughter-in-law to Danalee Thornock. Dan Wakefield, Tagaloa Leti, and Julie Tuiletuga all resided in Samoa. Interestingly enough, a state regulator recommended to Dana that she change the name of the sister agency to another one. She named the agency, Connecting Hearts, Inc. There are no tax returns for that adoption agency in Guidestar. It looks like Tagaloa Leti and Julie Tuiletuga have not been tried or convicted yet because they can not be found.

This was an adoption agency that lied and tricked natural parents into relinquishing their children. In the process, they also told adoptive parents that these children's natural families could no longer care for them. These folks promised the natural parents that they would receive pictures, letters, and even visits from their children until they are eighteen. At age 18, these natural parents were promised that their children would be returned to them.They often offered food in order to get them to relinquish.

In this statement issued by the Department of State alarmed me. It tells me how deeply entrenched the negative views of natural parents are. How can we expect to get these folks to investigate here in the United States?

"Robert Mather, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office Director for Salt Lake City, said, “This issue came to light when a USCIS officer saw something that didn't’t add up, suspected fraud and kept digging. After discovering the fraud, our employees worked closely with ICE, the State Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to review records, conduct interviews and help interpret the evidence. As an agency, we are committed to protecting children, adoptive parents and, on occasion birthright parents, throughout the adoption process.”

Wow that blew me away. So our natural parents are not that important. These defendants often acted under the guise of a program created by the United States or the Mormon Church to assist families in Samoa who were struggling financially or desired to have their children educated abroad. They assisted these families who were considering placing their children through Focus on Children by giving them nominal things such as bags of rice and other items of value. Once the child was placed through the agency then the assistance would stop. The news about the actions of this agency quieted back down.

The Bank then got into a lawsuit with adoptive parents, Curry and Mary Frances Kirkpatrick. They had adopted a little girl through Focus on Children in 2005. After six months, they had asked the Banks to take over guardianship of the young girl because of difficulties with the birth of twins and post partum depression. By February 2008, both families were fighting to adopt this little girl. The judge in this case declined the adoption by the Kirkpatricks stating that they had abandoned the girl with the Banks. The judge then terminated their parental rights. He did not however approve the adoption of this little girl by the Banks due to pending federal indictments.

The next bit of news through a monkey wrench in that adoption plan. The Banks has dumped two of their adopted children back in Samoa. Salvation (name Auriel by the Banks) and her brother, Ethan were brought to Utah as babies. The Banks said that there was a failure to bond. They sent them back to American Samoa to be raised there. They sent $500.00 a month for their children's needs. Sadly, now that Salvation is of age she is in need of her adoption paperwork, birth certificate and social security card but the Banks were NOT forthcoming with that information. After the news came out, Scott Banks finally sent a social security card to her but that card number turned out to be fraudulent. She has since vanished according to news articles. The Banks have adopted six children, three from Romania and three from Russia. They at some point took these two home but sent them back. These folks actually seem like serial adopters and abandoners.

Here the Banks were adopting and abandoning children themselves but they get off scott free but the Kirkpatricks were the ones that ultimately paid the price. In most situations like this, if someone applies for respite care, they get it from family members. However when it comes to normal adoptive parents, they are punished in the same exact way as the Kirkpatricks were. This is really puzzling. Why are the Banks allowed to get away with it?

In the comment section of the article about Auriel, I read this one:

written by Auriel's Friend, December 17, 2008

Auriel has gone missing since the article came out. Scott Banks gave her a social security number that he said he had gotten for her when she was three years old. The social security number turned out to be fraudulent. The FBI verified that.
Soon after that was discovered, no more Auriel. The Banks made her disappear...... again!"

What is amazing to me is that the Attorney General and the Department of State are willing to settle for no jail time. It is so obvious that these children and their families have been hurt badly by the whole Focus on Children organization. The defendants have agreed to never participate in international or domestic adoption ever again. Yea right that is not going to happen because her sister is now in control of the business. You can not tell me that she will not influence her sister or participate in the business that she owns. The Banks have agreed to fully disclose their actions in Samoa and other countries in a press conference. This is in an effort to see if adjustments need to be made in U.S. laws to ensure adopted children are protected in the future. The court also established a trust fund for the benefit of the adopted children in order to empower the natural parents and adoptive parents to do what is in the best interests of the child. I just love that ambiguous term. A trustee will be appointed to manage the trust.

The ending of this case stuns me but it is not over yet. I got an email from a person that took this tale a little further. According to the documents that are in the possession of Ethica. A Mai-Ly LaTrace was also one of their facilitators. This woman was banned from Vietnam as being a child trafficker. This woman was actually deported from that country. Focus on Children needs to be permanently shut down. All parties involved with that agency need to be banned from adoption forever. The Banks and their co-conspirators deserve maximum sentences, not this flimsy compromise. This compromise still tells adoption agencies that are corrupt that it is still okay to commit crimes against both natural and adoptive families, leaving adoptees to face the mess years down the road.

EDITED to add: The Banks are currently living in Elko, Nevada. They left Wellsville, Utah in the middle of the night in order to avoid ctivities concerning their adoptive children. They had nine adopted children but three are currently living with them. Two of which were dumped back into Samoa, Ethan and Auriel. Greg Banks was placed in a group home because the Banks would not provide the care that he needed as a special needs child. They also adopted an infant Guatemala girl One has to really question the integrity of these folks when they fight one set of adoptive parents because they needed respite care.

For those that do not know what respite care is, it is a break for a family. With a newly adopted daughter and a set of premature twins, I would say that the Kirkpatricks qualified for respite care. I know that my sister had that situation. She had a son in January and a set of twins who were born premature. Fortunately we had family that would help her out. It is a shame that the Banks could not do the same for them. The Kirkpatricks were also not informed of the child trafficking charges against them. The judge also intentionally ignored information concerning the Banks and the dumping of their adopted children under the age of 18.

I think that right there ticks me off more than anything. Why can't our country hold these folks accountable for their actions? Oh right, we have to protect the adoption industry. We have to protect that feel good feeling and keep it going. Lets get real please.

If you want to get to the judge before the sentencing is complete, please contact the following:

Please get every one you know to write a letter to The Honorable Judge Sams
Federal Judge
350 S. Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84111

tell him how you really feel about those lame sentences the judge gave the Banks,

then write a letter to the U.S. Department of Probations and say the same thing.

Then a letter to Marc Shurleff'
160 E. 300 S.
Salt Lake City, UT

Posted by Amy Adoptee at 1/11/2009 2:49 PM and is filed under Adoption and Its Triad,Danalee Thornock,Karen Banks,Amyadoptee,Scott Banks,Focus on Children

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1/12/2009 9:36 AM Anonymous wrote:
Amy counld not have said it better, it is true that you just kinda glided the surface of some very thin ice, but you have taken the plunge and look how deep it took you.

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