(CN) – Five Utahns who worked for the now-defunct adoption agency Focus on Children (FOC) say they illegally placed children from Samoa in homes in the United States. Four defendants pleaded guilty on Tuesday morning to various misdemeanor counts of fraud and immigration violations.
Karen Banks; her husband, Scott Banks; Coleen Bartlett; and Karalee Thornock will likely not face any jail time, but could serve five years probation. They have also agreed to shut down their adoption operation. Another co-defendant, Stephen R. McCaughey, entered a guilty plea at a separate hearing later on Tuesday.
According to court documents, the defendants lied to birth parents and adoptive parents in 37 of 81 Samoan adoptions between 2002 and mid-2005. In February 2007, a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City issued a 135-count indictment charging seven people with conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The two remaining defendants are Samoan citizens whom the U.S. government has not been able to extradite.
Investigators say FOC placed Samoan children in a “nanny house,” prior to being sent overseas for “a good education.” While at the “nanny house,” the birth families had access to their children and spent time with them.
Meanwhile, prospective American families were told these youngsters had been orphaned by their birth families. After a child was placed in an American home, the birth parents were contacted to relinquish their parental rights.
U.S. District Judge David Sam called the case “unique,” and said prosecutors were challenged with devising a creative solution.
Part of the solution will include a news conference held by Karen and Scott Banks after their sentencing. They will be required to reveal business practices that led to the charges against them. This information will “educate the public and others who might be engaged in similar conduct,” Sam said.
The Banks will also be required to meet with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the State Department to provide information concerning FOC’s adoption practices in Samoa, Guatemala and other countries. Four of the defendants are required to make monthly contributions to a trust fund benefiting the Samoan children involved.
FOC ceased operations in Utah in 2007 and could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000.