Conspiracy alleged in adopting Samoan kids

Date: 2007-09-05

Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)
Author: Lisa Rosetta The Salt Lake Tribune

A federal prosecutor is preparing to file a brief in December outlining the framework of an alleged conspiracy by Wellsville-based Focus on Children to illegally adopt Samoan children to U.S. families.

FOC is accused of duping parents in Samoa into giving the agency their children and then falsely describing the youngsters as orphans to prospective adoptive parents in the U.S. More than 80 children were illegally taken from their families by conspirators working through the agency, according to a federal indictment.

The brief will describe in detail the content of some 1,000 e-mails containing "certain co-conspirator statements" made by FOC owners Scott and Karen Banks and their employees, as well as establish a timeline of events in the case, assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin Pead said at a hearing Tuesday.

Attorneys for the Banks and the other U.S. defendants in the case - Dan Wakefield, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock - will have an opportunity to review Pead's brief prior to a Dec. 14 status conference. At that time, a "James hearing" to determine the admissibility of co-conspirator hearsay will be scheduled, as will a spring trial date.

Also at the Tuesday hearing, FOC of Wyoming director Danalee Thornock - Karalee Thornock's mother-in-law - appeared and represented herself. Prosecutors' summoned Danalee Thornock to represent FOC as a corporation, since she served as an officer on FOC Utah's board of directors at the time it was indicted.

Danalee Thornock maintained, however, that because she no longer sits on the board - and because the Utah and Wyoming branches of FOC are two separate and distinct entities - that she should not represent the corporation. U.S. District Judge David Sam agreed.

In October, prosecutors will travel to Samoa to talk to government officials there about the possibility of sending defendants Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga to the U.S. to stand trial.

The U.S. and Samoa do not have an extradition treaty.

In the meantime, plea negotiations are continuing. Defense attorneys asked Judge Sam to get involved in the negotiations in so far as evidentiary matters are concerned.

lrosetta@sltrib.com

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