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Prosecutors seeking at least $108,000 in Samoan adoption case

Justice »Two from defunct Wellsville agency say their amounts are too high.

By Pamela Manson

The Salt Lake Tribune

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to order five operators and employees of the now-defunct Focus on Children adoption agency to contribute at least $108,000 to help Samoan children keep in touch with their birth families.

The money would help bring justice to the youngsters taken under a false pretext from their families for adoption by American parents, the prosecutors argue in a brief to U.S. District Judge David Sam.

At least two of the defendants have said their suggested amount is too high based on their financial hardships.

But the U.S. Attorney's Office contends some of the money difficulties stem from bad financial choices and that the defendants can make adjustments -- including getting jobs, doing away with amenities and moving into smaller homes -- so they can make payments.

A 2007 indictment alleged Samoan parents were tricked by workers with FOC, a Wellsville agency, into giving up their children and that adoptive parents were falsely told the adoptees were orphans or abandoned. Prosecutors said the adoptive parents were told that communication with the birth families was forbidden.

The charges involved about 80 children, 66 of whom were placed with U.S. families.

The five defendants pleaded guilty to various counts of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien, a misdemeanor, and were sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Sam to five years of probation.

They also were ordered to pay into a trust fund for the Samoan children, with the amounts to be determined later.

The total amounts requested by prosecutors, which would be made in monthly payments for five years, are:

» Karen Banks, 48, who managed the adoption agency, and her husband, Scott Banks, 47, who also held a management position, $60,000 to $100,000.

» Dan Wakefield, 72, who helped locate children in Samoa for adoption, $24,000.

» Coleen Bartlett, 52, who facilitated the adoption of Samoan children, $15,000.

» Karalee Thornock, 36, who served as a Pacific Islands case worker, $9,000.


2009 Jun 15