Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
Alex Cabrero ReportingAn adoption fraud case being investigated here in Utah could be among the worst the state's ever seen. It involves a Wellsville, Utah, company and the country of Samoa.
It's a complicated and extremely emotional case. Focus on Children is an adoption company located in Wellsville. The U.S. Attorney's office says the owners of that company defrauded parents of children in Samoa and here in the United States, making promises to both sides they knew could never be kept.
Brett Tolman: "This case is one in which there are victims on all sides of the adoption transaction."
When U.S. attorney Brett Tolman started investigating this adoption fraud case, he had no idea how deep it went. He still can't believe it.
Brett Tolman: "Misrepresentations had to occur that showed not only a lack of conscience, but a level of greed and arrogance and defiance to existing immigrations and adoption laws that is unprecedented."
Focus On Children, out of Wellsville, is the company at the center of this case. The U.S. Attorney's office says they recruit families in Samoa to give up their children for adoption in the U.S., with promises their children would be taken care of and get an American education. The birth parents were also promised money, that they would get their children back when they turned 18, and the U.S. government and the LDS Church were behind this all.
However, the company told American families adopting the children that it was permanent and the children were available because their Samoan families could no longer care for them. Now it's possible the adoptive parents might have to give up their children.
Larry Jenkins, adoption attorney, Wood Crapo LLC: "Some families are waiting for years, and then to have something ripped out from underneath them in just a flash is pretty rough."
Larry Jenkins is an adoption attorney in Salt Lake and has seen these cases before but never one where some 80 children are involved.
Curt Fitzrandolph, U.S. Immigration Enforcement: "Smuggling humans in the U.S. for money is one of the most egregious exploitations of our nation's immigration system."
Brett Tolman: "You can't mislead, take children and sell them."
Arrested are Scott and Karen Banks of Wellsville, the owners of Focus On Children, as well as Karalee Thornock of Tooele and Coleen Bartlett of Evanston, Wyoming. Some of the charges they're facing include conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud, bringing in illegal aliens to the United States, fraud and misuse of visas, and money laundering.
With all the children involved, those charges alone could put the suspects in jail for the rest of their lives.