2nd guilty plea in case of Cambodian baby adoptions

Date: 2004-06-24

By JOHN IWASAKI

A Hawaii woman who worked with her sister's Mercer Island agency to arrange adoptions of Cambodian children who were not orphans pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering yesterday in federal court.

Lauryn Galindo, 53, admitted in a plea agreement that she had made false claims to federal authorities to get children into the United States, even though they had "at least one known living parent."

Her clients, who included Washington residents, are considered victims by the federal government and aren't expected to lose their adopted children.

Galindo's sister, Lynn Devin, pleaded guilty in December to visa fraud and money laundering. She is to be sentenced Aug. 6.

Devin operated Seattle International Adoptions Inc. from her Mercer Island home, while Galindo served as Cambodian adoption facilitator. The sisters placed hundreds of children with new families. Among their clients was actress Angelina Jolie, who adopted a child from Cambodia.

Their prosecutions are part of "Operation Broken Hearts," a two-year federal investigation into Cambodian adoptions. Two years ago, federal officials grew alarmed over reports of irregularities and stopped adoptions in Cambodia by Americans.

Galindo's misrepresentations stretched from January 1997 through December 2001.

Galindo could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison and fined up to $750,000 for three felonies. Besides arranging fraudulent visas, she laundered money through a bank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

She and two Cambodian co-conspirators laundered about $153,000 given by adoptive parents, who were directed by Devin to wire money to Cambodian banks, according to court documents.

The third felony count arose from a federal indictment in Hawaii, where Galindo evaded bank-reporting requirements by illegally structuring financial transactions.

Galindo declined to comment yesterday, but her attorney, Jay Stansell, portrayed her as a humanitarian and was pleased with the settlement.

"She wants to move on, and we're looking forward to putting the case in the context of Cambodia," Stansell said. "We want people to know who she is and what her work was."

That story will come out at sentencing, he said. Galindo is scheduled to appear Sept. 24 before U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly.

Her plea agreement indicated that she will seek to have her sentence reduced because of several factors, including "extraordinary public service and charitable work" and "childhood trauma."

Galindo's parents attended yesterday's proceedings. "I'm here; I support her," her mother said in brief comments outside the courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Lord previously said that none of the adopted children is at risk of being removed from his or her home, and the government reiterated that position following Galindo's plea.

"I haven't heard anything contrary to that," said one of the adoptive parents, Elise Potter, when told of yesterday's development. She and her husband, Doug, adopted two Cambodian girls through Galindo in 1999 and brought them to their Whidbey Island home in Clinton.

Like Devin, Galindo agreed to forfeit cash and property gained illegally through adoptions. Their assets include Galindo's home in Hanalei, Hawaii; bank accounts in Mercer Island, Honolulu, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Singapore; and a Jaguar convertible.

Magistrate Mary Alice Theiler restricted Galindo's movements to Washington and Hawaii and denied her request to travel to Asia to volunteer in United Airlines' humanitarian program in Cambodia.

Galindo's request was based solely on humanitarian reasons "and not any ulterior motive," Stansell said.

He said his client had "spiritual needs" and was not a flight risk.

Theiler scheduled a hearing tomorrow on the travel request.

P-I reporter John Iwasaki can be reached at 206-448-8096 or johniwasaki@seattlepi.com

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