A Dad's Adoption Nightmare

Date: 2009-06-22

After bringing home  child from Samoa, Mike Nyberg learned shed had a loving family back home

By Nina Burleigh
People Magazine

Standing with his video camera at the Auckland, New Zealand, airport in February 2004, Mike Nyberg watched the adoption agency worker lead in a saucer-eyed 4-year-old wearing a dirty blue dress and clutching a rubber ball. She was crying, but that didn't surprise the adoptive father in light of the heartbreaking story the agency had told him and his wife—that the girl had been abandoned by her destitute parents in Samoa and left in an Orphanage. Under the circumstances, "there's not a child on the planet that wouldn't act this way," Mike recalls thinking, Still,, he noticed, as she wept, she repeated a single word: "Tupu".

Back home in Spanish Fork, Utah, the Nybergs asked what it meant. In broken English, over the next weeks, the daughter they'd named Elleia explained: Tupu was her mother. She also had a Father, Isaia, and seven brothers and sisters with who she'd happily lived until the night a stranger took her away. Stunned but determined to find out more, the Mormon couple arranged for a missionary friend to visit Elleia's village; some months later he confirmed her story. "At first I was angry—who would do this?" Mike, 41, says. "Then I was sad and scared. What were we going to do?"

It was an adoptive parent's worst nightmare—and the Nybergs weren't alone. In a massive adoption-fraud case that involved more than 60 Samoan children and nearly 60 American families, federal prosecutors charged in 2007 that Focus on Children, an adoption agency in Wellsville, Utah, falsely represented to Samoan parents that their children would go on an extended study-abroad program—then put those children up for adoption. Earlier this year agency owners Karen and Scott Banks and three employees pleaded to lesser charges; they were sentenced to probation and banned from adoption work. The two governments also cut a deal: Samoa wouldn't challenge the adoptions, and the U.S. ordered the defendants to put up money for a fund to foster relationships between the children and their Samoan families. All but  few of the American parents have declined to comment (see boxes). The Nybergs were the only ones known to have returned their child.

For the Nybergs, who had struggled to add a third child to their brood, the connection to Elleia was instant. Learning of Focus on Children through their religious community, Mike, a financial planner who paid the agency $13,000, recalls gazing at her photo as the agency worker explained her "parents were giving her up; they couldn't feed her. I had no reason to question that."

Even as he tried to unravel her puzzling story, Mike quickly bonded with Elleia. "She was such a little doll, it wasn't hard to love her", he says. And despite her tear-filled nights, Elleia became part of the family—snuggling with Mike as he read her Dr. Seuss and Curious George, going on family hikes in the mountains, getting T-ball lessons from her brothers Porter, now 6, and Blaine, 11. Still, when Mike would take Elleia grocery shopping, "she'd point at mangos and pineapples", Mike recalls, and say, 'Samoa, Daddy!'"

Within a year after adopting Elleia, the Nybergs contacted authorities; their report helped launch the investigation into Focus on Children. Then in late 2005, the Nybergs took Elleia to Samoa to see her family. "We needed to find out," Mike says, "where her life would be." At  pre-arranged meeting place, her parents, Tupu and Isaia So, were waiting. "She was hugging her mom, and her mom ws crying," Mike recalls. "Then she went to her brother. They hugged and hugged."

Afterward Elleia's parents explained how they'd been misled by an agency worker into surrendering their daughter. They showed the Nybergs their home, a compound of wood-and-palm hits for the extended family, where they eked out a living growing pineapples, mangos, coconuts and beans. There was no plumbing, and "there were pigs and dogs and chickens everywhere," Mike says. "The living conditions were not ideal by our standards. But she was receiving so much love." The family agreed: Elleia—whose birthname is Sei—should stay in Samoa. The day they left, Mike  recalls "she hugged me and wouldn't let go. She was bawling and I was bawling."

Five months later Mike was astonished to get a call from the Sos. They were struggling and wanted to know would the Nybergs take Elleia back, not to adopt but as a foster daughter, so she could get a U.S. education? "They said we know you would care for her and we still want her to have the American dream," Mike says. He jumped at the chance, and Elleia returned to Utah.

But not for long. Alredy strained, the Nybergs' marriage had come apart under the pressures of the pasr year. "Her [Mormon] parents expected her to be raised by an intact [Mormon] family—and we weren't a whole family anymore," says Mike, who now lives in Idaho and shares custody of his sons with his ex-wife (who didn't return People's calls). "I called them and said they'd like to have her back." In February 2007 Mike had to put Elleia on a plane back to Samoa, this time for good. "I love my little girl," he says. "I was heartbroken I wouldn't be there for her."

He's still a part of her life—speaking to her by telephone and last year visiting Samoa with his sons. "We love Mike and his kids," Elleia's mother, Tupu tells People through a translator. Just last year one of Elleia's older brothers named his sone Mike; another named his newborn boy Nyberg. "Now," Mike says, "Tupu and Isaia and I, we share a daughter together. It's a strange dynamic of people to understand. But that's what it is."

Staying in America

When Patti Sawyer adopted a 4-year-old Samoan girl in 2005, he thought she was rescuing her from a desperate situation. "I was told she was abandoned in a public bathroom, that she had no relatives whatsoever," recalls Patti, 54, a divorced mother of two teenagers.

Unlike Elleia, Patti's daughter—whom she named Jayden—never mentioned a family until 2007, after Patti receive a letter from the State Department and started asking questions. "She remembered taking her to a 'nanny house' and crying,'" Patti says.

As authorities investigated the adoption agency, Patti found herself torn. "How do you take a child away from her mother?" says Patti. But she wasn't prepared to give Jayden back.

Her resolution: foster a bond between Jayden and her family.

Earlier this year she arranged what she hopes will be monthly phone calls for Jayden, now 9. "Her father has this big, baritone voice," Parri says, "and he said, 'I love you.'"

Now Patti us scraping up funds to take Jayden to Samoa, "It's exciting and scary for me," she says. "But it needs to be done"


People Magazine's article about FOC.

Someone sent me a photo copy of the People Magazine's article about the Focus on Adoption case, which I decided to type out, so it receives some more attention.

Focus on Children Scott and Karen Banks People Magazine

Everyone knows that People Magazine is sensational journalism. It lacks investigative reporting, or fact finding. When I heard that People was doing an article on Focus on Children and Scott and Karen Banks, I did not expect alot. Mike Nyberg has experienced a horrible adoption story as have most of the FOC clients who used them for a Samoan adoption(yet refuse to rat on a fellow Mormon) Patti Sawyer unlike Mike Nyberg had no interest in returning her child to her native homeland and biological parents. She like most international adoptive parents have this thought that the USA is where every child should be educated. (Every child but Scott and Karen Banks two kids from Romania, they were actually sent to Samoa to be raised.) So ,as far as People Magazine sensationalizing this tragic news of children, who were for the most part, taken from their families and put in a secret FOC Nanny House until the FOC employees could declare "abandonment", then be placed for adoption, it doesn't impress me at all. Innocent children used to line pockets the pockets of the owners of FOC. It has become a common practice amongst unethical adoption agencies.

I will wait patiently for some investigative journalism who will be able to get some of the Mormons to tell the truth, and explain to the populace how in the heck they can keep children who have homes already.

I will wait for a article that will go meet and the Mother and Father of Baby Heta, who died(she was housed at the FOC secret nanny house).

I will wait to hear from someone in the legal arena to explain how a 135 federal indictment with lots of felony charges, can be reduced by a Mormon judge to misdemeanors.

I will wait to hear how "so called authorities" in Samoa, can conclude that the Banks should be released of responsibility of the death of a infant baby girl.

I will wait to hear more about how the Banks and others are claiming to be "poor" and not wanting to pay as much into the "Samoan Children's Victim" fund. (GET A JOB)

Reality TV programs in America feature people getting kicked off the "island", here is reality where two children can not get kicked off because they lack their "legal papers" to leave the "island". What ever happened to adopting and accepting everything about the child you adopted. America is a "throw away" society, adopted kids included.
(Two of the "three lucky Romanian Children" that the Banks adopted at the same time and sent to Samoa, at a young age)

I will wait for the story about how a "adoption owner" can walk into a foreign orphanage and adopt three kids at once, or two kids at once, while us "adoptive parents" continue to wait and wait and wait"

And then there is the Banks fighting for custody of a child that belongs to their client. That is called Adoption Owners ENTITLEMENT. But it is Utah, and the judges seem to favor abusive, neglectful, criminals over "non-abusive, neglectful, non-criminals, because, a Mormon home is better than a Non-Mormon home. Seems to be easier to "brainwash a child into the cult than an thinking adult" (sheep follow, thinkers do not)

The real story to be told is the one about the biological fathers, who have no rights in Utah,

or the mothers who are coerced to come to Utah to give birth,

or the pregnant mothers who are members of the LDS church who are manipulated by their "Bishops" to give their child away to a Mormon "couple".

Plenty of these stories out there, all sadly true and as significant as the Samoan Adoption Scam.
But one of the problems is that the Mormons CONTROL THE PRESS.

I challenge you Niels to do the research and expose the McDonalds, the O'Dea's and Kirkpatricks all the others fighting the Mormon church, AKA the Judges for their kids kidnapped in UTAH.

Ironically, People Magazine feaured Jolie-Pitt, adoption duo on the cover!

Not uncommon.......sadly......

This is not the first, nor will it be the last agency to traffic children. I came across this article today in the waiting room as my adopted daughter from Ethiopia was in counceling, to try to deal with being adopted when she was told this was an exchange program! We tried to send the girls home, but were told we would have International abandonment charges if we did. Its now been three years, and I struggle to see HOW they could possibly assimilate back into the culture. We were told the same type of lies as these parents.
Sadly in our years of wading through these waters, we have found many, MANY parents in our SAME situation! :-(
Until there is a requirement for adoptions to be ethical, this WILL continue...... At the emotional and financial expence of well meaning Americans.....

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