Rappelons d'abord que Scott et Karen Banks sont le couple de l'Utah qui opéraient l'agence d'adoption Focus on Children. Ils ont trompé des parents samoans à donner leurs enfants en adoption en leur faisant croire qu'ils garderaient contacts avec leurs enfants qui recevraient une éducation aux États-Unis et leur reviendraient rendus à 18 ans. Ils ont trompé les parents adoptifs en leur faisant croire que ces enfants étaient orphelins et ont accepté des milliers de dollars. (Jusqu'à maintenant, seulement un parent adoptif a retourné l'enfant à ses parents.) En janvier, Karen et Scott Banks, et deux autres dans l'affaire, Coleen Bartlet et Karalee Thornock ont plaidé coupables à certains chefs d'accusation. La sentence des peines étaient prévues pour ce mois-ci. (Plus de détails sur ce sujet dans les blogs sur les adoptions samoanes).
Les sentences ont été rendues: le couple et les deux autres accusés ont reçu cinq de probation et sont bannis pour la vie du business de l'adoption!
Les accusés doivent aussi contribuer à un fonds créé au profit des enfants adoptés et doivent fournir des informations aux enquêteurs. Ce fonds aidera entre autres à la mise en place de boîtes postales aux Samoa afin que les parents biologiques puissent recevoir des lettres et des photos de leurs enfants - mais seulement si la famille adoptive décide d'initier le contact.
Comme de bons écoliers, les accusés devront entre autres participer à des conférences pour avertir les gens qui seraient tentés de les suivre avec des conduites similaires aux leurs.
Tout cela était à prévoir puisque les accusés ont plaidé coupables sous négociation de peine. (Voir l'article Adoption scandal has prompted only minor changes)
Détails dans le vidéo et les articles suivants:
Adoption scam tears families apart
Four Sentenced in Scheme to 'Adopt' Samoan Kids
(ABC News, 26 février 2009).
Not long after he adopted a baby from Samoa, Michael Nyberg knew something was wrong. The girl, whom he named Elleia, started saying the names of her parents and siblings, talking about how they all slept in a house together.
Nyberg said the adoption agency had told him that the 4-year-old had been abandoned by her family, left in foster care for months. "She starts talking about things that didn't add up," he said.
"She cried herself to sleep every night for the first three weeks she lived with us," he said. "And I thought this doesn't sound like a little girl that's been in foster care."
It was not until later, after he grew to love Elleia and think of her as his own daughter, that Nyberg learned the girl's Samoan family never planned to give her up. Her biological parents, federal prosecutors say, were duped by an adoption agency into releasing their rights as parents, always thinking that their daughter would return to them.
"She was supposed to be our daughter," he said. "I totally fell in love with her, just like my own flesh and blood."
Elleia, who is called Sei in Samoa, is among dozens of Samoan children who prosecutors say were sent to the United States as part of an adoption scam that has left a string of broken-hearted families in both countries and dozens of children in limbo.
Probation Sentence in Samoan Adoption Scam Case
Four employees of a Wyoming-based adoption agency, Focus on Children, were sentenced on Wednesday in federal court in Utah to five years on probation for their role in the scam. Scott and Karen Banks, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock have all pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting the improper entry of an alien. A fifth defendant, Dan Wakefield, who helped find the children to be adopted in Samoa, will be sentenced next month.
Prosecutors say the adoption workers and others tricked unwitting Samoan parents into giving up their children for adoption, telling them that the children were being sent on an educational program in the United States and that the children would return to Samoa.
The families didn't know they were giving up their rights to their children forever. American families paid thousands of dollars for the adoptions.
U.S. District Judge David Sam ordered the four defendants never to work in the adoption business again and to contribute to a trust fund for the children.
Sam said the case "cries out for a sentence that's restorative rather than punitive."
"We don't want to put these people in prison and have them kept from doing anything," he said. "They can address the interests of the children to restore the damage that has been done."
But the sentence has left families in both countries with mixed feelings, some of them outraged at what they view as a light sentence for tearing apart families.
U.S. Mom: Defendants Deserved Jail
"People who steal children deserve to go to jail," said Elizabeth, one adoptive parent who adopted who asked that only her first name be used.
"No child should be subjected to their entire world being turned upside down. The pain we see on our child's face will be the worst moment of our lives," she said.
A 2007 federal indictment charged the defendants with 135 counts of conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The indictment covered the adoption of 37 children between 2002 and 2005.
Prosecutors characterized the plea agreement as a creative solution to an unusual crime, and some parents say prison time would not be appropriate, saying the defendants have their own children.
The government "believes that the best interests of the children [and finding a way to achieve that interest] trumps the concept of punishment alone," prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum.
"We have victims on both sides of this adoption scheme, all of whom acted in good faith," said U.S. Attorney Brett Tolson. "Birth parents in Samoa believed they were sending their children to take advantage of opportunities in the United States. …Samoan families did not view the placement as permanent. They thought their kids would come home."
But it's difficult to say what is best for the children.
For now, most of the children remain with their American families, many of whom are terrified that the criminal case will allow the Samoan families to nullify the adoptions. U.S. officials told ABC News that they did not think the adoptions would be disrupted.
Patti Sawyer, a single mother from Wisconsin, said she had no idea that the little girl she fell in love with came from a loving family.
"When I was first introduced to my daughter I was told she was found in a public bathroom. In reality, she was from a very happy family, eight brothers and sisters, who turned her over to give her an opportunity," she said.
Sawyer said she is concerned that if she takes her daughter back to Samoa to visit her biological family, she may not be able to bring her back to the U.S. She is hoping to convince the girl's Samoan family to let her finish her education here, visit home, and share her life with two sets of parents.
"I've told her she has a mom and dad in Samoa. They love her. She has two families," said Sawyer. "She says I want to see my family. She says she doesn't remember her brothers and sisters or the games they used to play."
Of the families who were involved in the case, only Nyberg has sent his child back to her family in Samoa.
Nyberg said the decision to return Elleia to her family in Samoa was "excruciating," yet he knew it was the right thing to do. "To see the tears when they came around the corner and saw that little girl, and to know how much they missed her. It was just a great experience to have that reunion," he said.
But he now says he feels like the girl's birth parents are members of his own family.
"The beautiful thing is I have developed a strong relationship with this family on the opposite side of the world," he said. "Her parents are my brother and sister. We have a daughter we share.... She is truly my little girl and to not have her with me is a really difficult thing, but I know that she is where she needs to be right now."
Focus on Children scam: No jail time in adoption-fraud case (publié dans The Salt Lake Tribune, le 25 février 2009)
In a plea deal, four defendants get probation and are banned for life from the business.
Standing in front of the people she blamed for almost destroying her family, Elizabeth Muenzler on Wednesday clutched a photo of her adopted Samoan daughter and struggled to relate the depth of her suffering.
"There are no words to describe the disgust and disdain I have for you," Muenzler told defendants as a judge considered how to punish operators and employees of the now-defunct Focus on Children adoption agency. "Lord knows, if anyone deserves jail time, it's you."
After hearing Muenzler's plea and from other parents who either condemned or supported agency operators Scott and Karen Banks, U.S. District Judge David Sam sentenced the couple and two others connected to the agency to five years of probation and banned them for life from the adoption business.
Prosecutors alleged Samoan parents were tricked into giving up their children as relatives or friends pushed a program that would educate children in the United States and return them at age 18. Advocates for stricter regulation of international adoption, such as Kimberly Kennedy, a board member of PEAR (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform), criticized Wednesday's sentence as "appalling to say the least."
But Judge Sam and prosecutors, who had recommended probation as part of a plea deal, said they focused on having the defendants contribute to a fund set up for the benefit of the adopted children and provide information to investigators rather than jail time. Among other things, prosecutors said the fund will help set up post-office boxes in Samoa so birth parents can receive letters and photos from their children -- but only if the adoptive families decide to initiate contact.
The amount of the payments and specifics on the fund's operation will be hashed out over the coming 45 days. Jini Roby, an associate professor of social work at Brigham Young University, has agreed to direct the trust fund for free.
And although he called the adoption case "particularly offensive" and the "most difficult and unique" case his office has seen in a long time, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman on Wednesday spoke in favor of the plea agreement his office reached with the defendants that recommended no jail time.
Tolman said a drawn-out case focusing on punishment would have been "catastrophic" for the adoptive parents, birth parents and children. Tolman also said the birth parents reached by his office did not want prison time for those connected to FOC, and many had already forgiven them. A spokeswoman said the office discussed the plea deal with 25 of the Samoan families, many of which had placed three to five children with FOC.
Sentenced for aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien, a misdemeanor, were: Karen Banks, 48, on five counts; Scott Banks, 47, who also held a management position at the agency, on five counts; Coleen Bartlett, 52, who, among other duties, facilitated the adoption of Samoan children, on two counts; and Karalee Thornock, 36, who served as a Pacific Islands case worker, on one count.
Focus on Children itself, which entered a guilty plea to a felony count of conspiracy through its court-appointed defense attorney, was ordered to pay $400 in special assessment fees.
A fifth defendant, Dan Wakefield, who helped locate children in Samoa to be placed for adoption, has pleaded guilty to five counts of the misdemeanor and will be sentenced next month. He is expected to get the same sentence as the others.
In addition to contributing to the trust fund, the plea deal calls for Scott and Karen Banks to:
» Participate through their attorneys in a news conference to educate the public and others who might be engaged in similar conduct about their case.
» Meet with prosecutors and the State Department to provide information on FOC's adoption practices in Samoa, Guatemala and other countries to see if adjustments need to be made in U.S. laws.
» Relinquish all rights to adoption documents, photographs and other papers related to Samoan adoptions.
In handing down the terms of probation, Sam made note of the unrelated Washington state case of Lauryn Galindo, who was accused of falsifying immigration documents to make it appear that Cambodian children placed for adoption through her agency were abandoned.
Galindo, who charged large fees and spent the money on lavish personal items, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, he said.
On the other hand, Focus on Children reinvested $750,000 of its income in foreign orphanages and humanitarian services, the judge said in comparing the punishments in the two cases.
Attorneys for Scott and Karen Banks on Wednesday described them as caring people who wanted to help children. Karen Banks is pained some parents might not have understood what was happening, said her attorney, Rebecca Skordas.
"Mistakes were made and people have suffered. One of the people who have suffered the most is Karen," she said.
Charges are still pending against two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, whom the United States has been unable to extradite.
Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at a news conference after Wednesday's sentencing that the stories he heard from parents who had been deceived and lied to were heartbreaking.
"I hope I'm never again witness to such hurtful actions," he said.
Samoans shocked by lenient adoption scam penalties (Publié dans Austranlia Network News, mis à jour le 28 février 2009)
Samoans have expressed shock at the sentence given to four Americans, over an adoption agency that tricked Samoan families into giving up their children.
The three women and one man have escaped jail sentences, as New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.
Eighty Samoan children were adopted out by the Focus on Children Agency between 2002 and 2005.
The Samoan parents were told the children would be educated in the US and could return home when they were 18.
But the agency told American families they were orphans and accepted thousands of dollars for them.
The couple which ran the company and two others have been banned for life from having anything to do with adoption.
Editor of the Samoan Observer newspaper Keni Lefa says the judge's leniency will come as a great shock to locals.
"If they find out that they're not going to jail, they're going to be very disappointed," he said.
Many of the Samoan children remain in America. Some have been given back to their birth families.