VOLUME 28 NO. 11 | MARCH 7- MARCH 13, 2009

Four sentenced in Samoan adoption scam

Last updated 3-5-09 at 2:50 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A judge has sentenced four people who were connected to a scheme involving an adoption agency to five years of probation.

U.S. District Judge David Sam on Feb. 25 also banned the four people associated with Focus on Children from the adoption business for life.

A February 2007 indictment alleged that poor Samoan families had been tricked into giving up their children for adoption. The indictment said birth parents were told the children would get an American education and return home when they turned 18, while adoptive families thought the children were orphaned or living with relatives who could not care for them.

The case involved about 80 children adopted between March 2002 and June 2005. Adoptive parents had paid Focus on Children $13,000 per child or $20,000 for two children.

Karen Banks and Scott Banks, who operated Wellsville-based Focus on Children, were sentenced on five misdemeanor counts each of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien. Coleen Bartlett was sentenced on two counts and Karalee Thornock was sentenced on one count.

The four pleaded guilty in January to the reduced federal charges, along with Dan Wakefield, who pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts. Wakefield will be sentenced next month and is expected to get the same sentence.

Prosecutors said that instead of jail time, they were focused on having the defendants contribute to a fund set up for the benefit of the adopted children. The fund will be used in part to help set up post office boxes in Samoa so birth parents can receive letters and photos from their children if the adoptive families initiate contact.

U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said the case was “particularly offensive” but said that drawn-out proceedings would have been “catastrophic” for the adoptive parents, birth parents, and children.

The agency Focus on Children entered a guilty plea to a felony count of conspiracy through its court-appointed defense attorney. It was ordered to pay $400 in special assessment fees. .


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