SECOND WOMAN IS CHARGED IN CAMBODIAN ADOPTIONS
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: PAUL SHUKOVSKY P-I reporter
A celebrated international humanitarian - who now stands accused of cashing in on the misery of dirt-poor, Third World families - turned herself in yesterday to federal agents and prosecutors on a mission to clean up global trafficking of Cambodian "orphans."
The case involves allegations of bribery, profiteering and falsification of documents. And all, court documents say, came in an effort to portray children as orphans or abandoned, rather than babies available for the right price.
For adoptive parents of Cambodian children, the allegations are chilling. So is not knowing what really happened. One Whidbey Island couple adopted two children from Cambodia. Now the children's birth mother claims she was tricked into giving the girls up. But she could also have sold them.
That adoption was handled by Lauryn Galindo, 52 ((age)), of Kauai, Hawaii. She turned herself in yesterday and became the second person charged in federal court in the investigation. Galindo's sister, Lynn Devin, 50 ((age)), of Mercer Island, pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering last month as part of the investigation code-named "Operation Broken Hearts."
This is the first such prosecution by the federal government since Congress passed a law in 2000 implementing the Hague Adoption Convention, a 1993 treaty that sets out minimum requirements and procedures for international adoptions.
Galindo maintained her innocence yesterday after a brief hearing in Seattle. "I consider my work primarily humanitarian. I went to Cambodia to help orphan children," she said in response to accusations of profiteering at the expense of Third World parents mired in poverty.
"My only concern now is that the children placed with adoptive families are secure in their homes and flourish," Galindo said.
Devin has yet to be sentenced in the case, being investigated by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service. Devin operated Seattle International Adoptions Inc. from her home. She and her sister, who acted as an adoption facilitator in Cambodia for Seattle International and others, together placed hundreds of children with new families.
None of the adopted children is at risk of being taken from their American homes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Lord. The government considers the children and their American families to be victims.
Galindo walked out of U.S. District Court yesterday afternoon after being freed without having to post bond. Flanking her were her attorneys, John Lundin of Seattle and Mark Lane, a high-profile New Jersey lawyer who survived the Jonestown massacre in South America. He also was asked to study a possible appeal by the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wrote "Rush to Judgment," which explored conspiracy theories into the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Accusations and awards
The United States suspended adoptions by Americans of Cambodian children two years ago amid growing concern about baby selling in which adoption facilitators persuade mothers to give up their children for payments of $20 to $100. The per capita income in Cambodia is about $240.
Before the suspension, Devin's Seattle International Adoption Inc., with the help of Galindo on the ground in Cambodia, arranged actress Angelina Jolie's adoption of a Cambodian child.
Many of Galindo and Devin's clients assert that they have been duped by the pair whom they accuse of doing such things as falsifying health records to pass off severely disabled children as healthy. Others talk about the thousands of dollars in crisp $100 bills that changed hands with virtually every adoption. The money was supposedly meant as a donation to support Cambodian orphanages. But suspicious clients point to Galindo's beach house in Kauai in a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes. Among the neighbors have been musician Graham Nash and author Michael Crichton.
Lane said yesterday that his client does not own the home. But checks of real estate records for the property in Hanalei, Hawaii, show ownership under the name K-4 Partners, which is located at the same address as Devin's Mercer Island home.
Lane added that for years Galindo worked without making any income from her adoption activities. "No income at all," Lane said.
Galindo told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last month that she finds the accusations against her and her sister incongruous. Galindo claims the prince of Cambodia gave her "their gold medal of honor" for her work in national reconstruction. And Galindo spoke of how she helped remove 19 children to new homes in the United States in the middle of a violent coup in 1997. That same year, glowing accounts of Galindo's work appeared in The Seattle Times.
Two girls, two families
Galindo and Devin have numerous supporters - satisfied clients who adopted Cambodian children through the sisters and have watched them grow into healthy, happy American children.
But even the case of the Whidbey Island couple who say that the women handled their adoption in a thoroughly professional fashion highlights the ethical ambiguity surrounding Cambodian adoption.
Part of the adoption story of two Khmer sisters by Doug and Elise Potter of the South Whidbey community of Clinton was published in the English-language Phnom Penh Post in October 2000. The story, which did not identify the Potters and did not include any comments from them, ran under the headline: "Mother Yearns for Contact with Daughters."
It paints a picture of a destitute farm widow, Kim Sophoan, who thought she was leaving her daughters with a friend but instead returned to discover they had been sent to the United States. The story portrays Kim Sophoan in a desperate struggle to at least contact the girls and their adoptive parents. In the end, a defeated Kim Sophoan settled for a monetary settlement from the orphanage of $3,264, a small fortune by Cambodian standards.
Earlier this week, Elise Potter said in an interview that when she traveled to Cambodia to pick up the girls, now 11 and 13 years old, she was told their mother was very ill and had turned them over to an orphanage associated with Galindo and Seattle International Adoption because she was unable to care for them.
And based upon conversations with her daughters, Potter believes Kim Sophoan was acting out of a mercenary desire for cash rather than maternal devotion.
Five years ago, Doug Potter, a high school teacher, and Elise, a massage practitioner and former social worker, had a chance to realize their dream of having a big family. They had three children, two of whom were adopted. In late 1998 they got a call from Seattle International Adoption saying there were two older girls available at the orphanage.
Perhaps because they were willing to take older children, they paid only about $5,000 to adopt both girls as opposed to a typical fee of $10,000 to $15,000 for a younger child. Elise Potter said their unusual willingness to take older girls is because "these are children in need that we can help," and because older children who are not abandoned as babies more readily bond to new families.
The Potters went through all the home visits, fingerprint checks and paperwork as required in international adoptions. Then in February 1999, Elise Potter flew to Phnom Penh to pick up the girls. Her face was transformed by a soft smile as she recalled meeting the two little girls, then about 6 and 8, for the first time. And she recounted the delicate bonding with two kids who spoke no English and whose lives had been one trauma after another.
When she arrived in Cambodia, she met with Galindo who took care of all the paperwork and arranged for her to pick up the children at an orphanage run by a woman named Chhim Naly with the support of Seattle International Adoption.
"She said the girls' mother had not been seen in a long time," Potter recalled. "I was told the mother had left the girls, and she was very sick."
The girls were very shy at first, Potter said. "They knew they were leaving, and they just wanted to go."
Potter described how stunned the girls were to see their hotel room while they waited for the adoption to become final. It took some persuading by Potter to get the girls into a bathtub so she could shampoo out the lice. Neither girl had ever seen a bathtub. They were used to living in huts without running water.
Now, almost five years later, both are flourishing in the United States. The older girl is getting all A's, "acting like your typical American 13-year-old." And while the younger child has some learning difficulties, she's getting the help she needs both at school and in the tight-knit South Whidbey community, said Potter. "They both have lots of friends. They're very popular girls."
Asked whether they miss their mother, Potter offered what the girls have told her about life in Cambodia. A grandmother raised the older girl, and their mother was gone for extended periods. Potter said the girls had been abandoned by the mother, exposed to gun fights, almost hit by cars and the older one had one of her little brothers die in her arms.
Nevertheless, Doug and Elise Potter say they spoke with respect of the birth mother. And they held out the possibility of some contact or financial support for her until one day in 2000 when a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post contacted them.
`They were not cared for'
The Post story outlines how Kim Sophoan turned to the Cambodian Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs office that fights trafficking in children to complain that Naly adopted out her children without her permission.
To Elise Potter, Kim Sophoan's battle is suspect because the story describes how she settled for a monetary settlement brokered by a ministry official. The story describes how the illiterate woman says she was forced to put her thumbprint on a settlement she didn't understand giving custody to Naly.
The settlement with Naly says: "I would like to express my profound gratitude to your generosity in adopting my two children and for providing me with $3,000 to be used as capital for launching a business and for giving me good advice. If I, Kim Sophoan, do not comply with the contract and still make contact with the two children, I will be responsible before the law."
Naly told the Post that "I sent her children to the United States to be brought up by a tycoon family. When they are 18 years old they will show their thanks by giving money and feeding her for the rest of her life."
Said Kim Sophoan, "I want to be able to touch my children, but I want them to be able to stay in America. I don't want money from (the American family), but I would not refuse to receive money from them. I heard they are tycoons. I'll be very happy if I can meet with them."
Whatever happened, international adoption law was probably violated.
Potter thinks the real crime is the neglect the girls endured in Cambodia. "If any of what happened there, happened here, the perpetrators would be in jail in a flash," said Potter. Asked about conditions in the orphanage, Potter said: "They hated it. They were not cared for."
It's that kind of description of orphanage life that catches the attention of Dale Edmonds, a Singapore mother of four adopted Cambodian children. Edmonds runs an online clearinghouse of information about Cambodian adoption.
She said in a telephone interview that some of Galindo's adoptions were ethical and legal and some were not. "You can't tell which is which." But she laughed aloud at Galindo's contention that thousands of dollars collected by Galindo for orphanage donations benefit orphans.
"If you count the adoptions going through, there were hundreds, maybe one thousand. You're talking about $3 million to $5 million for about 10 orphanages.
"That's at least $300,000 per orphanage. You would expect them to be the Shangri La of orphanages. But you visit, and the money is not there. It has vanished."
P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or firstname.lastname@example.org