Adoptive parents anxious
Deseret News, The (Salt Lake City, UT)
Author: Geoffrey Fattah Deseret Morning News
In the wake of a Wellsville-based adoption agency and its workers being indicted on charges they ran a baby-smuggling operation out of Samoa, federal officials say they have received panicked phone calls from parents who fear their adopted children are going to be immediately taken away from them.
"We recognize that learning of this alleged conspiracy has created anxiety for both birth and adoptive parents of the children in the case," said U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman on Monday. "To help address this concern, the U.S. Attorney's Office is telling parents today that it has no interest in taking children away from adoptive parents."
Instead, Tolman said his office in encouraging a "dialogue between birth and adoptive parents" to resolve the emotionally charged situations created by the agency, Focus on Children.
In a 135-count indictment unsealed Friday, federal prosecutors allege that Focus on Children, its owners, Scott and Karen Banks, and five employees, misled birth parents in Samoa into signing away their parental rights and then telling adoptive parents in the United States that the children were either abandoned or orphaned. Adoptive parents were then told to declare the children as abandoned or orphaned on their visa applications.
Federal officials reported that Focus on Children ran a "nanny house" in Samoa where some children were temporarily housed. They said the house was found in poor condition and some children were suffering from dehydration and malnourishment. There is also evidence that some siblings were split up and adopted out to different families in the United States.
Officials with the U.S. Department of State say the investigation involving more than 80 children has created an emotional tangle of birth parents in Samoa, many who want their children back, and adoptive parents, who are now struggling to figure out what to do.
Focus on Children faces charges of visa fraud, conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and money laundering. Also indicted are Karalee Thornock, 34, of Tooele; Coleen Bartlett, 40, of Evanston, Wyo.; Julie Tuiletufuga, a Samoan citizen; Tagaloa Ieti, a Samoan citizen; and Dan Wakefield, 70, of Utah.
Wakefield made his first court appearance on Monday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. Wakefield, who at one point was presumed to still be in Samoa, told a magistrate judge he intended to continue to live in Utah for the duration of the case. He was ordered released pending a resolution of the case but allowed no unauthorized travel.
Wakefield and the Bankses, are expected back in court on April 2. Arrest warrants have been issued for Tuiletufuga and Ieti.
According to its Web site, Focus on Children also has provided adoptions out of Brazil, Bulgaria, Guatemala, China, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and Ukraine. Federal officials say at this point their focus will be on the adoptions out of Samoa. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org