Written by Marieta Heidi Ilalio
Father of one of the adopted children, Iva Fuiono. (Inset) Iva’s son, Posi Iva, who is still in the U.S under the care of an American couple.
The decision not to jail people accused in the Samoa adoption scam has been attacked by two families in Samoa, whose children were involved. The families based in Faleasi’u village told the Weekend Observer the decision was not right and that the defendants should have been jailed.
On Tuesday, District Judge David Sam sentenced the four accused of running the scandal to five years probation. They were also ordered to contribute to a trust fund to help the adopted children stay in touch with their birth families in Samoa.
The judge also ordered the defendants to never engage in the adoption business again. But the two Faleasi’u families the Weekend Observer spoke to disagreed.
“They should have been in jail by now,” Fatu Fuiono said.
Mr Fuiono is the grandfather of one of the children adopted, Posi. “They took my son when he was only three years old,” he said. “We just want to know if he is in good condition.”
Posi went to the United States through the adoption programme in 2003. Now Posi’s grandfather says he wants the government to do something to bring back his grandson. “It’s like a piece of me [was] taken away when they took my son,” Mr. Fuiono said. Iva Fuiono, the father of the child, agrees.
“They should have put them in jail,” he said.
“They have to pay for their sins and they will never learn if they have given years of probation,” said Iva. He said the ruling places another burden on the parents fooled into giving up their children, because it is not right.
Another family in Faleasi’u, also involved, echoed similar sentiments. “They have to spend some time in prison, they have to learn a lesson,” Rosa Fa’anunu said.
Rosa is the sister of three children taken in 2003 – Lasi Fa’anunu, Motumotu and Fa’afetaitasi Fa’anunu. She also said the ruling is not right.
Her parents –and others – were told by a US official in Samoa that the court issued the ruling because the accused have to work to earn money to help the adopted Samoans, said Rosa. “We understand the reason of the ruling, but it’s still not right,” Rosa said.
“What these people did was wrong and they should be held accountable for it. You cannot deceive people and get away with it, even if its under the guise of trying to make up for your wrong.” Her siblings were taken from her family when they were 6 years, 5 years and 11 months old respectively.
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 programme -- 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 US$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.