Ex-Strongsville adoption agency employee sentenced for schemes to bribe Ugandan judges, lying to adopt Polish girl, who was raped
CLEVELAND, Ohio— A former employee of a defunct Strongsville adoptions agency was sentenced Friday to one year and one day in prison for two adoptions schemes that included bribing Ugandan officials and lying to Polish authorities about the adoption of a girl, who was later raped.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin sentenced Debra Parris, 70, to below the recommended sentence of about three years. He said he would have sentenced her to a longer prison term for her “terrible conduct” if it wasn’t for her serious healthcare needs.
“The amount of damage you’ve done to these children is horrendous,” Gwin said. “You’ve caused immeasurable psychological damage to these children and parents.”
Gwin also ordered Parris to pay a $10,000 fine and $118,197 in restitution to 42 families. He allowed her to self-report to prison by Jan. 9, unless the Bureau of Prisons directs her otherwise.
Parris, a former employee of European Adoptions Consultants, apologized to the families. Parris and her attorney, Bret Martin, blamed some of what happened on Margaret Cole, the agency’s owner.
“From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry for what happened to them,” Parris said, later adding: “I would never have hurt those families.”
Parris, of Lake Dallas, Texas, said she came out of retirement to work for Cole because she needed health insurance for her husband, who died after receiving a double-lung transplant, and her son, who had cancer.
She pleaded with Gwin to sentence her to home confinement because she needs a liver transplant and would be removed from the transplant list if she was sentenced to prison.
“If I’m taken off that list, I might as well die tomorrow,” she said. “It’s a death sentence for me.”
Gwin told Martin that he should consult with his client about a possible appeal, an unusual move because defendants give up their appellate rights when they plead guilty. Martin said after the hearing that he and his client are “in conversations” to appeal, but would not say why.
Families who adopted Ugandan children through the agency later learned their children were taken from their original families without consent. Some, including Jessica Davis, returned the children to their families.
Davis gave a tearful statement during Friday’s hearing, conducted via Zoom. She pleaded with Gwin to give a harsh sentence to send a message to adoptions agencies that fraud can’t be tolerated.
“I waited for this moment for a long time, specifically for Debra,” Davis said. “You caused a lot of people pain and suffering.”
Parris in November pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiring to commit fraud. Two others— Cole and former agency employee Robin Longoria— also pleaded guilty in the case. Cole, who also had serious health issues, was sentenced to three months in prison. Longoria was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, similar to Parris.
A Ugandan attorney who acted as the adoption agency’s coordinator and paid the bribes, Dorah Mirembe, has not been arrested on the charges.
The FBI began investigating the agency after a girl it helped adopt from Poland ended up brutally raped by Parris’ son, John Tufts.