Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Focus on Children Defendants to Plead Guilty

By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
December 09, 2009

Former operators and employees of a Wellsville adoption agency accused of fraud in connection with the adoptions of Samoan children are expected to enter guilty pleas in the case.

In a hearing Tuesday afternoon before U.S. District Judge David Sam in Salt Lake City, a prosecutor and defense attorneys for the Focus on Children defendants say they are working out the final details on plea deals for five of the seven defendants in the case.

The judge scheduled hearings for Jan. 6, when plea negotiations are expected to be complete. Four defendants -- Karen Banks, Scott Banks, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock -- are slated to enter guilty pleas at a morning hearing. The fifth defendant, Dan Wakefield, will appear at an afternoon hearing.

The U.S. government has been unable to extradite the other two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, and they are not part of these negotiations.

The lawyers involved in the case declined to give details of the plea agreements.
A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City issued a 135-count indictment in 2007 charging the defendants with fraud and immigration violations.

The indictment claimed the Focus on Children workers duped parents in Samoa into giving the agency their children, falsely saying they would return to them when they turned 18.

In addition, prospective adoptive parents in the United States allegedly were falsely told that the youngsters were orphans.

U.S. immigration laws required the children to be orphans, defined as abandoned by both parents or left with one parent who cannot provide care.
The alleged conspiracy involved about 80 children.

The defendants all pleaded not guilty. Lawyers for the Bankses, who operated Focus on Children, said four of Samoa's most prestigious attorneys had given sworn affidavits describing how Samoan birth parents were repeatedly told they were giving up legal rights to their children and should not expect to see them again.

Focus on Children ceased operations in Utah in the summer of 2007.

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