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Document and Benefit Fraud

Defendants sentenced in Samoan adoption scam

Government sought "forward looking" resolution for Samoan, U.S. families

SALT LAKE CITY - The Focus on the Children corporation, along with four defendants who worked for the organization, were sentenced in federal court here today for their role in facilitating the fraudulent adoption of children from Samoa.

Scott Banks, 47; Karen Banks, 48; Coleen Bartlett, 52; and Karalee Thornock, 36, received 60 months probation as part of a plea agreement in which they admitted aiding and abetting the improper entry of an alien. The corporation, Focus on Children (FOC), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud. U.S. District Judge David Sam ordered FOC to dissolve once pending litigation involving the corporation is resolved.

As a part of the plea agreement, FOC has agreed to cease involvement in domestic and international adoptions. Additionally, Scott and Karen Banks will forfeit their rights to business and adoption records. These records will be used to provide additional information to adoptive parents and facilitate the exchange of information. Scott and Karen Banks also agreed to cooperate with the government in disclosing their adoption practices in Samoa, Russia, Vietnam and Guatemala.

In addition, the defendants will be ordered to make contributions to a trust fund established to provide assistance to affected families. The trust fund will facilitate communication between the adoptive families and birth parents.

Jini L. Roby, an Associate Professor of the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, has agreed to direct the trust fund. Roby, who will work with the trust free of charge, has a significant background in global and national child welfare issues.

Today's sentencing is the culmination of an investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.

"The Focus on Children case has been one of the most unique cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah in some time," said the U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett L. Tolman. "There are many facets to this complicated case. It became clear early on that using a traditional criminal case resolution pattern would not resolve the issues for the children and families involved in this case. With children and families caught in the middle, we came to understand that for justice to be served, we needed a creative, forward-looking resolution. Through months of negotiation, effort, and thought on the part of my office and our partners at the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, we have fashioned what we believe is a meaningful solution to addressing the most serious harm in this case."

Tolman added, "We believe that finding a way to achieve a resolution that is in the best interest of the children trumps the concept of punishment alone. It was incumbent on us to balance the desire for punishing the defendants' criminal conduct with the need to provide security and stability for the victims. We believe the resolution of the case as outlined today does that."

"Adoption fraud is a terrible crime," said Pat Durkin, special agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Service's San Francisco Field Office. "The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has worked tirelessly on this case, day and night, conducting more than 100 interviews and traveling thousands of miles within the United States and to Samoa and New Zealand. Diplomatic Security has demonstrated its dedication to pursuing visa fraud and its commitment to making the best out of this situation for the families and children involved."

"While there is nothing these defendants can say or do that will compensate for the hurt and heartache they caused, their willingness to work with the government to prevent the manipulation of our adoption laws in the future should reassure prospective adoptive families here and across the country," said Jonathan Lines, resident agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Utah. "ICE remains committed to using its enforcement authorities to protect foreign-born adoptees and the parents who open their hearts to provide homes for these children."

According to a sentencing memorandum, the United States had three goals at the outset of the investigation and prosecution: stopping the defendants from continuing their criminal conduct; ending, to the extent possible, the rampant fraud taking place in inter-country adoptions, and punishing the defendants for their criminal conduct.

Federal prosecutors said in the sentencing document they have tried to consider the views of all of those affected by the defendants' actions, particularly the children, and made significant efforts to communicate with victims in the United States and Samoa. "The perspective and desires of the victims, although not in complete agreement, provided insight on the ultimate resolution," they told the judge today.

Prosecutors noted in the sentencing memorandum that the gravest concern expressed by the adoptive parents was that a trial would result in the birth families or the government taking their children from them. This was especially significant, prosecutors wrote, for many families who have raised their adopted children in the United States since infancy.

Prosecutors say not one of the birth parents wanted the defendants to go to prison and many of them indicated they had forgiven the defendants. The birth parents, however, desire to know how their children are doing and want to be a part of their child's life, even if that is only through the mail, prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Cases are still pending against three other defendants in the case. Daniel Wakefield, 72, who has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and will be sentenced in March. The indictment remains open for Tagaloa Ieti, 46, and Julie Tuiletufuga, age unknown, of Samoa. The two have not been removed from Samoa to appear on the charge. The indictment will remain open for these two fugitives.