US adoption agent guilty of visa fraud
Written by Bill Bainbridge
One US adoption agent has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy to launder money in relation to adoptions arranged in Cambodia and another is facing similar charges.
Lynn Devin, who runs Seattle International Adoptions, entered a plea agreement with prosecutors on December 10. Her sister, high profile adoption facilitator Lauryn Galindo, has been indicted by a grand jury. A warrant for her arrest was issued on November 7.
Devin can be required to relinquish any properties derived from committing the offense plus a sum of more than $100,000. She is due to be sentenced on March 12 next year.
Galindo has been arranging adoptions in Cambodia for more than a decade. She is close to a range of senior Cambodian government figures and is best known internationally for facilitating an adoption by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.
Devin's charges related to ten cases during a period beginning in January 1997 and ending when the US suspended adoptions from Cambodia in December 2001.
Galindo has been indicted for half-a-dozen overlapping cases.
According to the district court documents Galindo and Devin faked documents to falsely pass off the adopted children as orphans and created fictitious identities for the children.
This was done, the documents state, "in order to expedite the adoption process for Cambodian children to United States families and to enhance their profits".
The documents outline the pair's actions in the cases aimed at securing "immediate relative visas" for the adopted children.
The charges include several cases where the identities of children were switched after a child became unavailable because of illness or death. In these circumstances, the prospective parent would be told to retain documentation of the sick or dead child and use it to adopt a different child.
They also include a case which arguably constitutes "baby-buying".
In one of the cases listed, an "unindicted co-conspirator" encouraged a birth mother to relinquish her four-year-old daughter for adoption around January 1998.
Lynn Devin then informed an adoptive parent in the US that the child was an orphan. This was despite the fact that Lauryn Galindo had acknowledged that the girl's mother was alive in an annotation to her medical record.
The adoptive parents were then required to make a series of payments to the agency totaling $7,000.
In May of that year the parents were taken to an orphanage in Kampong Speu where the child was delivered to the new parents by the biological mother. Galindo then allegedly told the adoptive parents to give the woman $100, the indictment says.
The parents were then directed to "donate" $3,500 to the orphanage. When they queried the orphan status of the child Devin told them it "would be best" to go ahead with the adoption. Galindo is then alleged to have completed visa paperwork in which she claimed the child was an orphan and its parents unknown.
Another case, a parent was given a five-month-old boy at the Sihanoukville orphanage in December 1997. When the parent decided not to go ahead with the adoption Galindo convinced the parent to complete the paperwork to adopt the child.
Galindo then took the child to Honolulu International Airport where she delivered him to a different adoptive parent who had paid close to $10,000 in fees.
The money laundering charges relate to the transfer of money outside of the US with intent to carry out unlawful activity. Seattle International Adoptions charged around $10,500 for its services.
Galindo referred questions to a public relations firm which had not answered questions by press time.
But she emailed former clients to protest her innocence and claim that she had not been served with an indictment.
"I am dismayed that Lynn would plead 'guilty' when there was no crime committed," she wrote before she appealed for emails of support from former clients.
Most of the cases involve the Women's and Vocational Orphans Association (WOVA), an orphanage that has been linked to child trafficking allegations in the past.
But WOVA Director Chhim Naly declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the case.
"I am sick, I have heart disease, let me stay in the quiet. I have stopped working for one year. Few of my children remain and they are hungry. Sorry, sorry," was all she would say.
Cambodian authorities were unable to say if she would face investigation here.
However human rights NGO Licadho said Cambodian authorities should act.
"Licadho urges the Cambodian authorities to investigate [Kampong Speu and WOVA] orphanages, and others which have been the subject of allegations in recent years, to determine whether crimes have been committed under Cambodian law," said Naly Pilorge, director of the NGO.
"We are very happy with the prosecutions in the US but we also feel that it's time for the Cambodian authorities to prosecute Cambodians engaged in the trafficking of children for the purpose of adoptions."
While charges have been laid in several cases none have gone to trial.
Three staff at an orphanage run by a former driver for Galindo were charged with human trafficking in December 2001 after two women reclaimed babies that were apparently bound for the US. [AOA]
However the case was dropped so quietly that not even the lawyer for the birth mothers knew about it until some five months later.
The adoption industry has been alleged to fuel bribery, child trafficking and other unscrupulous practices in Cambodia for more than a decade.
In May 1999 Foreign Minister Hor Namhong asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to investigate bribery allegations against Galindo and described her activities as "like selling goods".
The letter requested an investigation of claims that Galindo paid $5,500 in bribes to the Ministries of Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs and the Council of Ministers.
However Senate President Chea Sim enlisted the help of the co-interior ministers Sar Kheng and You Hokry to request that adoptions by Galindo be approved.
Galindo has described Cambodian People's Party powerbroker Sim as "like a father to me" and says that she is friends with Sar Kheng and the prime minister's wife Bun Rany.
In 2002 she was awarded a special medal for national reconstruction by the Cambodian government.
Galindo, a former professional hula dancer, keeps a luxury home in Hawaii and a riverfront apartment in Phnom Penh. Last year she told the Cambodia Daily that she had donated $600,000 to children's causes.
She has been one of the biggest players in Cambodian adoptions for more than a decade. When the US government suspended adoptions from Cambodia, Galindo had 114 families in the adoption pipeline.
Cambodia became heavily targeted by adoption agencies for its cheap and fast adoption process but it remained a minor source of orphans with around 90 per-month going to the US in mid-2001.
The number of Americans adopting overseas increased from 6,472 in 1992 to 18,541 in 2000. Programs to feed that demand have sprung up everywhere from Guatemala to Russia, China and Romania and most programs have attracted allegations of baby-buying or other forms of corruption.
However the prosecution of Lynn Devin is the first of its kind. Pilorge welcomed the actions of US authorities and said that such prosecutions in countries that receive orphans were vital to deter abuse of the adoption system.
"This sends an important message to adoption facilitators and agencies that they will be held responsible for any illegal acts they commit," she said.
New legislation on foreign adoptions was written by UNICEF three years ago but is yet to become law. The law would relegate international adoptions to a last resort strategy.
A situation report issued by the Dutch embassy in Bangkok last May concluded that various government officials had stymied efforts to introduce alternatives to international adoptions.
Mao Sovadei, director of the child welfare department at MoSALVY, the social affairs ministry, could give no indication of when the legislation would pass. Nor did he acknowledge any responsibility for his ministry in allowing trafficked infants to be passed off as orphans.
"I don't know yet who should be held accountable for this issue," he said.
A spokesperson for the US embassy said that only around 20 adoptions for those families that filed paperwork prior to the December 2001 cut-off date were left to be processed.
After that "no further adoptions will be processed for American families until such time as the US Government is convinced that a transparent system is put into place that...to ensure that only children who are genuine orphans are being put up for adoption and that practices such as baby stealing and selling are prevented," the spokesperson said.