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Defendants in Samoan adoption scandal to plead guilty Tuesday

Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune

Five Utahns accused of fraud and immigration violations in the adoptions of Samoan children by U.S. parents are slated to plead guilty Tuesday.

Change-of-plea hearings, where defendants typically admit guilt under a deal with prosecutors, are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. before U.S. District Judge David Sam in Salt Lake City.

Four defendants -- Karen Banks, Scott Banks, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock -- will appear at the morning hearing; the fifth, Dan Wakefield, is scheduled to enter his plea at the afternoon hearing. The five are former operators and employees of the Focus on Children adoption agency in Wellsville.

The U.S. government has been unable to extradite the other two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga.

A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City issued a 135-count indictment in February 2007 charging the defendants with conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The charges, which target 37 of 81 Samoan adoptions by the Focus on Children agency in Wellsville between 2002 and mid-2005, stemmed from a federal investigation triggered by suspicious immigration officials.

The indictment claims the Focus on Children workers falsely told Samoan parents that children they placed for adoption would return to them. In the United States, prospective adoptive parents allegedly were told that the youngsters were orphans or abandoned by families who could not care for them -- claims that were false.

The defendants have all been free pending resolution of the case.
2009 Jan 5