Judge has mercy on Samoan adoption scam defendants; no prison time

By Pamela Mason and Steve Gehrke

25 February 2009 / The Salt Lake Tribune

A judge on Wednesday rejected pleas from adoptive parents to order jail time for four people prosecutors say helped trick Samoan parents into giving up their children through the now-defunct Focus on Children agency.

U.S. District Judge David Sam instead sentenced the four to five years of probation and ordered them to contribute to a trust fund to help adopted children stay in touch with their birth families. He also ordered the defendants to never engage in the adoption business again.

In handing down the sentences, Sam said the case "cries out for a sentence that's restorative rather than punitive."

"We don't want to put these people in prison and have them kept from doing anything," the judge said. "They can address the interests of the children to restore the damage that has been done."

But adoptive parent Mike Nyberg said in court the penalty "should be far greater than a slap on the hands."

Nyberg recounted for Sam the day he and his then-wife picked up their new daughter from a plane that landed in New Zealand. The devastated 4-year-old had messy hair and scabies, and was clutching a small basketball, he said.

The couple were told the basketball was a small going-away gift given by her Samoan parents, but Nyberg said he later learned his daughter was taken from her birth parents under false pretenses. The parents had taken her to a home to be cared for a while, but thought they could go back to pick the girl up, Nyberg said.

Elizabeth and Gary Muenzler, who adopted a Samoan girl through FOC, told Sam both the adoptive and birth families involved had been put in their own "personal prison."

Turning to face the defendants as she read a prepared statement, Elizabeth Muenzler said her daughter has lost years of her childhood due to post-traumatic stress disorder. She called the defendants liars and criminals and said she was unsure she could ever forgive them.

"The betrayal is unfathomable," Muenzler said. "Lord knows, if anyone deserves jail time, it's you."

She added that she prays that someday the defendants will have to answer to all of the Samoan children in person.

However, many adoptive parents wrote letters in support of the defendants. And Rod Young, a Pleasant Grove man who adopted a son through FOC, told the judge at the sentencing hearing that his experience with the agency was wonderful.

He said that parents who adopted older children have to expect attachment disorder problems and that overall, the adoptees are better off.

Sentenced were Scott Banks, 47, who held a management position at the agency, on five counts; Karen Banks, 46, who also held a management position, five counts; Coleen Bartlett, 52, who, among other duties, facilitated the adoption of Samoan children, two counts; and Karalee Thornock, 36, who served as a Pacific Islands case worker, one count.

Focus on Children itself, which entered a guilty plea to a felony count of conspiracy through its court-appointed defense attorney, was ordered to pay $400 in special assessment fees.

A fifth defendant, Dan Wakefield, who helped locate children in Samoa to be placed for adoption, has pleaded guilty to five counts of the misdemeanor and will be sentenced next month.

Prosecutors accused the five of conspiring to arrange adoptions that violated U.S. immigration laws, and alleged the scheme included lying to Samoan birth parents and American adoptive parents. As part of a plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney's Office, all five pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien, a misdemeanor.

Dozens of felony charges against them were dropped, and prosecutors recommended probation. Wakefield is expected to get the same sentence as the others.

In addition to contributing to the trust fund, the plea deal calls for Scott and Karen Banks to:

» Participate through their attorneys in a news conference where they will talk about the case to educate the public and others who might be engaged in similar conduct.

» Meet with prosecutors and the State Department to provide information on FOC's adoption practices in Samoa, Guatemala and other countries to see if adjustments need to be made in U.S. laws.

» Relinquish all rights in adoption documents, photographs and other papers related to Samoan adoptions.

A federal grand jury issued an indictment in early 2007 accusing the defendants of a total of 135 counts of conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The charges covered the period between March 2002 and June 2005 and specifically involved the adoptions of 37 children by U.S. families.

Samoan parents said relatives or friends pushed a program -- often described as affiliated with the LDS Church -- that would educate children in the United States and return them at age 18. The agency allegedly charged the adoptive parents a fee of $13,000 to facilitate the adoption and immigration of a Samoan child.

U.S. immigration laws required the children to be orphans, defined as abandoned by both parents or left with one parent who cannot provide care.

Charges are still pending against two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, whom the United States has been unable to extradite.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said it has no connection to FOC. But the alleged claim was a selling point for FOC in Samoa, where about 30 percent of the population is Mormon.

The case has led to a call for reform involving international adoptions. To stem abuses, experts are pushing for national adoption laws to replace a patchwork of state laws; limiting the amount of money involved in the adoption of foreign children to prevent human trafficking; and making U.S. agencies responsible for the actions of their overseas contractors.

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WHERE to begin?!?

I will try to pace myself with this case because it seems to be a really great candidate for our next Demon's in Adoption Award.

U.S. District Judge David Sam instead sentenced the four to five years of probation and ordered them to contribute to a trust fund to help adopted children stay in touch with their birth families. He also ordered the defendants to never engage in the adoption business again.

In handing down the sentences, Sam said the case "cries out for a sentence that's restorative rather than punitive."

"We don't want to put these people in prison and have them kept from doing anything," the judge said. "They can address the interests of the children to restore the damage that has been done."

The Banks can TRY to restore damage done to families and address the interests of children behind prison bars, as well, so I'm not sure what the judge is thinking.  Perhaps he's worried about the well-being of 2 more people being added to an already overcrowded prison system, and perhaps he's worried angry tax payers will start complaining about prison costs. (?)  Who knows what's behind a judge's decision when it comes to sentencing a prison-term. 

Turning to face the defendants as she read a prepared statement, Elizabeth Muenzler said her daughter has lost years of her childhood due to post-traumatic stress disorder. She called the defendants liars and criminals and said she was unsure she could ever forgive them.

"The betrayal is unfathomable," Muenzler said. "Lord knows, if anyone deserves jail time, it's you."

She added that she prays that someday the defendants will have to answer to all of the Samoan children in person.

However, many adoptive parents wrote letters in support of the defendants. And Rod Young, a Pleasant Grove man who adopted a son through FOC, told the judge at the sentencing hearing that his experience with the agency was wonderful.

He said that parents who adopted older children have to expect attachment disorder problems and that overall, the adoptees are better off.

I hear Attachment Therapy is very good for kids, too.  (I wonder if the Banks had any AT links posted on their website -- as a "helpful service" for AP's?)

Focus on Children itself, which entered a guilty plea to a felony count of conspiracy through its court-appointed defense attorney, was ordered to pay $400 in special assessment fees.

How does this compare to the "hidden fees" AP's are often expected to pay for their private adoption to be completed?  [I'd like to know how many children had to be sold to cover that small nominal court fee.  I hear some non-refundable application fees for private adoption agencies go as high as $300.00]

In addition to contributing to the trust fund, the plea deal calls for Scott and Karen Banks to:

» Participate through their attorneys in a news conference where they will talk about the case to educate the public and others who might be engaged in similar conduct.

» Meet with prosecutors and the State Department to provide information on FOC's adoption practices in Samoa, Guatemala and other countries to see if adjustments need to be made in U.S. laws.

» Relinquish all rights in adoption documents, photographs and other papers related to Samoan adoptions.

I'd rather see this conference take place in a prison somewhere.... like Samoa.  Funny, I don't think the Banks should be rewarded with world travel, but hey, such is the rule and justice found in this case related to the international adoption industry.  [Go figure!]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said it has no connection to FOC. But the alleged claim was a selling point for FOC in Samoa, where about 30 percent of the population is Mormon.

Why do the phrases "Damage Control" and "Keeping safe distance" come to mind when I read this?

The case has led to a call for reform involving international adoptions. To stem abuses, experts are pushing for national adoption laws to replace a patchwork of state laws; limiting the amount of money involved in the adoption of foreign children to prevent human trafficking; and making U.S. agencies responsible for the actions of their overseas contractors.

Universal standards of care in child placement should be made, followed and well-guarded.  Harsh penalties should be enforced to keep people like the Banks and Lauryn Galindo , (and all these OTHER child traffickers ) from the streets and people in poor countries.  Child safety should be a priority, regardless of "final placement".

I'm getting so sick of reading about the importance of reform.  Words mean absolutely nothing when inaction follows.

What are the chances the fine folks at The Hague (and the posse of agreeing government leaders) are up to the very real challenge Child Placement Reform really presents?  Dare we think the people behind the convention will finally address the harm adoption scams are doing to so many people around the world?  Will radical reform take place in my lifetime?  Who knows!  I know one thing:  based on what I keep seeing and reading, I'm not going to hold my breath for the US government to do anything that benefits the life of parents and children.

THE LDS CHURCH IS GOD ON

THE LDS CHURCH IS GOD ON EARTH

Scott and Karen Banks are pigs, pure and simple,,,and they made money at being pigs.
Greedy stinking pigs who used power of an adoption agency to steal babies and sell babies.

Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go

This is typical for the LDS church. Allow members to get guardianships, which seems to be a real problem in the US, or if not that, go to another country and steal kids from there, just like the illegal adoptions from our reservations here in the US, until the state department stepped in and put a stop to it. The LDS church members will get involved until a case winds up in court, then the leaders, who were involved early on, will back off and say nothing. LDS social workers take lies fot truth without ever looking at court documents, some adoptive LDS families get guardianships of children of a parent, or parents, who are going through a rough time because they are not eligible for adoptions through US channels for a variety of reasons, thus they'll lie (or have others do it for them) and do just about anything to tie cases up in court costing taxpayers billions for dollars every year, tying up the courts with, in some cases in excess of a hundred or more motions PER CASE.

The LDS church seems to pride themselves on honesty, integrity and so forth, yet I've yet to read about a singe case where the church, or anyone in leadership, has tood for the truth, or helped any family repair the damges done to reunified families from their paritioners or even when a Bishop, Stake leader, or other leader has been directly involved in the adoption or guardianship in the beginning. If the church was really about truth, integrity and so on, they would have excommunicated anyone involved in ANY shady guardianship or adoptions and helped the victims of such proceedings, including financial help for legal fees, counseling (outside the church) for the victims, and would be helping these families in Samoa, as well as here in the US, keep their families together instead of being involved (although a few thin layers of "deniability" apart) from being directly responsible for their members' actions. Some have even joined the church aparently for the sole reason of being able to get children from another party - sometimes another family member, a father who is not aware his child is being put up for adoption and often because they want a child. Unfortunately, some of these adoptive parents have mental illness issues, including sociopaths, those who's children have grown and have a need to be needed, and so on.

If the LDS church cared about really helping the birth mothers and these families, why are they not sending money, job skills and other support to the countries these kids are coming from and WHY are people from the US going abroad to adopt when there are so many children in foster care here in the US? Why is the same church not involved in helping even parents here in the US with money, college scholarships and so on so they can take care of their own children? Why are so many parents being "counseled" to give up custody rights of their children if they are just going through a rough time financially? Then the LDS family with guardianship AND the birth parent(s) load up the courts with case after case of custody battles over children.  Birth parents have to spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their children back from these, "temporary guardianships". that aren't so temporary.  We see a disproportunate amount of cases that go to trial that involve the LDS "church" in our area. Court costs and the legal fees are colossal.

Have any of these people ever thought that respite care for families going through a tough time might be far better than any guardianship or adoption ever might be? What ever happened to helping thy neighbor, family, etc.?

Something tells me God's not very happy about this.

Many children in this system that are unfortunate to get caught up in a system that rarely does an adequate background check on the adoptive parents (none at all for a guardianship, and the LDS families who get a guardianship are told to not notify the grandparents, sometimes natual father or anyone else who is required to be legally notified, so the LDS church members are telling their members to lie and commit fraud to get welfare for these kids, medicaid, cash aid and so on. These children often wind up being abused, if it goes to court, they are used as pawns in nasty custody battles, and as a result these children are scarred for life.

The damage has been done to these kids from Somalia. Trust, abandonment and other issues will be a problem for these children for a lifetime.

I wonder if the LDS church will spend a single dime on helping these children and their parents through what they condone their members do? This should be interesting.

A $400 fine and no jail time for this? Its no wonder these people traffic other people! These people should have been tried in Samolia where kidknappers (which this falls under)  now face the death penalty. Why don't we send these people who set up this kid-stealing ring back there for trial? I wonder what would happen if we passed similar laws here in the US? (Oh, that's right! They already exist!)

OK, then let's send the kidnappers AND the judge that ruled on this case all over to Somalia to be tried there. The death penalty works for me.

One_God_for_me

Ummm....

Let's see...$13,000 per child and 37 children involved? That's $481,000 in fees collected.

In the end, the Banks' get no jail time and only a $400 fine.

CRIME DOES PAY!!!

What they did is far worse than a "coyote" smuggling illegals across the border. They should be jailed and their assets seized since they were more than likely purchased from the result of illegal activity.

Who is this judge? Utah voters, think it's time for a recall?

U.S. District Judge David

U.S. District Judge David Sam instead sentenced the four to five years of probation and ordered them to contribute to a trust fund to help adopted children stay in touch with their birth families.

So the children remain with the adoptive families despite the birth parents having been tricked into giving them up?!

Right or wrong...

According to adoption law, once the adoption is made final, the parental rights of the first-parents are lost to the new "forever family".

Unfortunately, the selling of kidnapped or trafficked children is not as rare as it seems. In another adoption scam, Australian AP's worry that their adopted children would be taken away:

At least 30 children adopted from India by Australian families may have been kidnapped and sold by child traffickers, according to Time magazine. The investigation, published this weekend, reveals kidnappers stole ''pretty'' children from poor neighbourhoods in southern India and sold them to adoption agency Malaysian Social Services for $A265 each.

The adoption agency and the orphanage are based in Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Both had their inter-country adoption licenses suspended in 1999 after revelations they were implicated in child trafficking, but were later re-licensed.

In one case, a Queensland family recently learned that the girl they adopted through the agency, who is now nine, was snatched from outside her family home as a two-year-old.

''I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Indian families that have been caught up in this drama and also for the Australian families,'' Ms Rollings said.

After learning the truth 18 months ago, the Rollings family tracked down Akil and Sabila's birth mother and met her in India.

''We're now in a position thankfully that our kids feel very positive about their reunion and the wonderful relationship that has developed,'' Ms Rollings said.

The Rollings family are continuing to call for an investigation into the case of their son and daughter.

''We want an investigation so our children can know for certain what happened. And most importantly so their other mother can get justice. She's the one who's lost the most in all this,'' Ms Rollings said.

India's Central Bureau of Intelligence insists birth families should be allowed to see their children again in India.

But Ms Rollings said adoptive families would need assurances from Australian and Indian authorities that their children would not be taken from them.

''The families need to feel very confident there was no question of the children being removed.''   [From 'Stolen babies' adoption scam ]

In regards to the Focus on Children scam, the posted news video "Adoption scam tears families apart" does feature one AP who returned the adopted child to the rightful parents.  [At 2:26 of the video, (poundpuplegacy.org/node/27206), Mike Nyberg tells his story.] 

Not for nuthin, but....

Yesterday I was reading an article about a family who received "free" frequent flyer miles from an anonymous donor so they can bring their adopted daughter to Samoa for a visit.  This "fist visit" is going to be filmed by ABC news.

An Appleton woman’s donation of frequent flyer miles will reunite a Fond du Lac girl with her biological family.

The story of 8-year-old Jayden, daughter of Patti Sawyer, will be followed by a crew from “Good Morning America” when she returns to her homeland of Western Samoa this summer for the first time after leaving in February 2005.

“I was just floored,” Sawyer said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen.”

The offer from the anonymous donor came after the Sawyer family’s story involving an adoption scam appeared recently on the national morning show. It was also featured on The Reporter’s March 2 front page.

Jayden was among 37 Samoan children who were placed with adoptive families in the U.S. by an international agency, Focus on Children. The agency told Samoan families that their children would be educated in America, correspond through e-mails and phones calls, return home for visits, and come home for good when they reached age 18.

Patti Sawyer and the other adoptive parents were unaware of the agency’s deception. The Fond du Lac teacher was alerted to the situation about a year after the adoption by government officials from three federal agencies, she said.
“I knew it was really serious when I got the call,’ sawyer recalled.

Last month, resolution came when a federal judge in Salt Lake City, Utah convicted 4 persons involved with the adoption agency, Focus on Children, and the Samoan government deemed the adoptions legal.

The judge also ruled that the convicted set up a trust fund to help the Samoan children keep in touch with their birth families.

Sawyer said she is the only parent she knows of, so far, who has chosen to bring both families together. Some, she said, believed they were entering into a closed adoption. Others fear losing their children. One father has returned his adopted daughter to her biological family.

“I wanted to travel to Samoa so Jayden can visit with her family, and we could expand ours. I think of this as a fantastic opportunity to connect two families who live across the world,” she said.

Sawyer was unable to afford the travel fare until the Appleton woman offered frequent flyer miles she had earned on her credit card. She also told Sawyer she would pay for expenses and counseling for Jayden.  [From:  "Following up on adoption scam, 'Good Morning America' will chronicle FdL family's trip to Western Somoa", Sharon Roznik, March 5, 2009, http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20090305/FON0101/90305071/1289/FON01]

While it's nice some stranger wants to help an adoptee reunite with her family in her own birth-country, isn't this trip/counseling supposed to be covered by the Banks and their court-ordered trust fund?  What's the point in establishing  this trust-fund for the victims, (using the Banks "earned" adoption money), if other people are going to donate air-travel and therapy for the victims stolen from their home/families?

Am I the only one who thinks all expenses for this trip, (and many others), should be covered by the Banks and only the Banks?

 

the whole thing is sick

shouldn't they give the children back to their parents who loved them, cared for them, did not abuse them, and want to parent them????

to me this is what adoption is not supposed to be....

the father who took the kid back did the right thing.... all these other people are just mean

and what a joke court was

basically these people stole kids and didn't even go to jail ... wtf

A question about "consent"

This issue... this case... raises a very good question:  How can an adoption be deemed legal if the parents are not fully aware of all the risks and benefits to a child's placement in another country?   For instance, I was re-reading the articles about Madonna, David Banda and his dad, and I was wondering just how much the parents from another country are told about the consequences adoption brings.

Does "informed consent" mean anything to those working within the adoption industry?  If so, how well informed are those (poor) parents who follow a different culture and speak another language?

informed consent

Does "informed consent" mean anything to those working within the adoption industry?

Clearly it doesn't mean anything to some adoption industry people.

another problem with the mess

by INS regulations, these children should not have been adopted into the USA.... they should be returned.
to be adopted into the USA they child must meet certain requirements including having no parents or anyone willing to parent them in their home country.... these kids have parents alive and well... someone had to lie on that paper work as well....

I don't know what the heck Madonna thing is about (I mean could she not have gotten one of the hundreds of thousands of children the same age sitting in US foster care, and actually does anyone remember Madonna? should she really be raising any child?)

Who is Considered an Orphan?

http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176...

Who is Considered an Orphan?
Under U.S. immigration law, a foreign-born child is an orphan if he or she does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents. A foreign-born child is also an orphan if his or her sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing care of the child and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. For such a child to gain immigration benefits, an orphan petition must be filed before his or her 16th birthday. An orphan petition may be filed before the child's 18th birthday, if the child is a natural sibling of an orphan or adopted child, and is adopted with or after that child, by the same adoptive parents.

Pound Pup Legacy