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False promises: How parents and prosecutors contend families in two countries were duped


Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)

June 14, 2007

Author: The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah adoption agency Focus on Children, (FOC) owners Scott and Karen Banks and five employees in Samoa, Wyoming and Utah are accused of conspiring to arrange adoptions that violated U.S. immigration laws. Prosecutors allege the scheme included lying to both Samoan birth parents and American adoptive parents.

The Approach

Samoan parents say relatives or friends pushed a program - often described as affiliated with the LDS Church - that would educate children in the U.S. and return them at age 18.

FOC staffers Dan Wakefield and Tagaloa Ieti met with interested families. They promised parents would receive photos, letters and perhaps money - and repeated the children would return at 18, prosectors allege.

Fake Orphans

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.

Not abandoned: Some parents took children to an FOC "nanny house," but they often visited and took the children home for extended stays, prosecutors say.

Safe at home: Many children were cared for at home even after adoption paperwork was done.

Adoptive Parents Misled

Among lies told to adoptive parents: their child was the result of an affair; the father could not be found or was not interested; extended family was unable to provide care. Relying on such claims, Americans asserted the children were orphans and obtained visas for them.

But all the Samoan families were able to care for their children, prosecutors contend.

Deceit Denied

Wakefield insists he told Samoan parents only that their children could choose to return after turning 18 and becoming adults in the U.S. Wakefield, the Bankses, and two employees have pleaded not guilty and declined to comment. Ieti and another indicted employee remain in Samoa.

2007 Jun 14