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Defendants in Samoan adoption case must pay $100,000 to trust fund

Published July 17, 2009 7:59 am

Courts » The five are ordered to contribute to trust fund that will help reconnect families.
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A federal judge in Utah has ordered five operators and employees of the now-defunct Focus on Children adoption agency to contribute $100,000 to a trust fund that would allow Samoan children adopted by U.S. parents to connect with their birth families.

U.S. District Judge David Sam said the payments will serve both as punishment and a form of "restorative justice."

The money would be paid in monthly installments over the next five years. Sam's order, issued Tuesday, marks the end of the court proceedings in the case.

A 2007 indictment accused the five of tricking Samoan parents into giving up their children to the Wellsville-based group for adoption.

Prosecutors alleged relatives or friends in Samoa pushed the adoptions as a program that would educate children in the United States and return them at age 18.

Also, the adoptive parents in the United States were falsely told the adoptees were orphans or abandoned and that communication with the birth families was forbidden, according to the indictment.

The charges involved about 80 children, 66 of whom were placed with U.S. families.

The five defendants pleaded guilty to various misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien and were sentenced earlier this year by Sam to five years of probation.

They also were ordered to pay into the trust fund, with the amounts to be determined later.

In addition, the agency, which ceased operations in summer 2007, pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy and was ordered to officially dissolve.

The defendants and the amounts they must pay are:

» Karen Banks, 48, who managed the adoption agency, and her husband, Scott Banks, 47, who also held a management position, $85,000.

» Dan Wakefield, 72, who helped locate children in Samoa for adoption, $8,000.

» Coleen Bartlett, 52, who facilitated the adoption of Samoan children, $4,000.

» Karalee Thornock, 36, who served as a Pacific Islands case worker, $3,000.

The U.S. Attorney's Office had asked for a minimum total of $108,000. Spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said Thursday that while no amount of money can rectify the damage done, prosecutors are satisfied with Sam's order.

"We believe this money will be a significant help in opening the long-awaited lines of communication between children and families affected by the defendants' actions," she said.

Sam said he took into consideration that the defendants "are not people that have indicated that they have lived an irresponsible lifestyle of excess and deviant behavior."

"While each is culpable in their criminal actions, they appeared to be acting in what they considered to be the best interests of the children and not in their own selfish interests," the judge wrote.

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