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Ohio woman pleads guilty to adoption-fraud scheme that led to hospitalization of Polish child


Ingrid Burke Friedman

An Ohio woman pleaded guilty to defrauding the US and Polish governments in connection with an illicit adoption to a convicted criminal that resulted in the hospitalization of a child, according to court documents obtained Monday by JURIST.

Margaret Cole, former executive director of European Adoption Consultants (EAC) — a Strongsville, Ohio agency that facilitated intercountry adoptions, pleaded guilty on Friday to having defrauded the US and Polish governments. This is the latest development in a years-long series of investigations and criminal complaints at the state and federal levels against Cole and her alleged co-conspirators.

According to the indictment, in 2015, a couple began to work with the EAC with the goal of adopting a Polish child. At the EAC’s urging, the couple agreed to adopt two children — sisters who would be devastated if they were separated, the clients were told. The couple had undergone a home study, background checks, and all prerequisites for an intercountry adoption from Poland, and had been approved by the relevant authorities. But during an extended pre-adoption visit to the country, the couple determined that they lacked the resources to adopt both children, and pleaded with the agency to secure an adoptive family for the second sister.

Cole told the clients she had secured an adoptive family in Texas, and persuaded them to go through with the formal adoptions of both children in Poland, assuring the clients that the second child would be moved to a new family immediately upon their return to the US, according to court documents.

The clients and the agency represented to the relevant Polish and US authorities that they adoption would take place as planned. But once they returned to the US, the clients passed the second child to the new adoptive family in Texas through a ramshackle custody transfer process.

It was later revealed that the second adoptive family had not taken the steps required to seek approval for adoption from Poland, and that if they had, a background check would have revealed that one member of the second adoptive couple had been convicted of domestic violence.

Furthermore, the adoptive family was related to EAC staff member Debra Parris, who was named as a co-defendant in the indictment, and who has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US government in connection with the adoption.

As the relevant adoption authorities learned of the myriad violations, the second sister was required to undergo a medical examination. She was transferred to a hospital, where medical staff discovered “significant injuries” to several areas of her body. Ultimately, the child was removed from the custody of the adoptive parents by Texan child protective services.

Prior to pleading guilty, Cole had attempted to drum up support and funding, framing herself in public communications as the victim of an unwieldy government bureaucracy with unlimited resources to stifle intercountry adoptions. Notably, a GoFundMe campaign she launched in April 2021 to support her legal case had failed to attract any donations as of the time of writing.

Following Friday’s guilty plea, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a statement reading: “Cole, Parris and others agreed to defraud U.S. authorities to conceal their improper transfer of the Polish child. Following the adoption, the child was injured and hospitalized while living with Parris’s relatives. Thereafter, Cole made a false statement to the Polish authority responsible for intercountry adoptions about the transfer of the child that, among other things, concealed the role of Cole and others in arranging the transfer of the child to Parris’s relatives.”

Cole is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27.

A slew of other charges levied against the EAC include “conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit visa fraud in connection with a scheme to corruptly and fraudulently procure adoptions of children from Uganda through bribes paid to Ugandan officials,” according to the DOJ. In connection with these allegations, Parris and another co-defendant, Robin Longoria, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, while a fourth co-defendant — Dorah Mirembe — remains at large.

2022 Feb 7