U.S. TO SEEK EXTRADITION OF SAMOA ADOPTION AGENTS

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO, PAGO American Samoa, (Samoa News, Mar. 5) - The U.S. government is hoping for cooperation with the Samoa government so two Samoa citizens can be sent to the U.S. to face charges in an adoption scheme, a federal prosecutor says.

Of the seven defendants charged in the scheme, two are Samoans - Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, who are still in Samoa, but the U.S. government has no extradition treaties with the Independent State.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Bearnson told Samoa News on Friday that the federal government will work with the Samoa government to resolve this issue.

"The U.S. government intends to file a petition with the Samoa government to bring these individuals to the United States," said Bearnson in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City, where the federal charges were filed. "And if Samoa denies our petition, then deny it is. That is up to their discretion. However, we are hoping for a favorable response from Samoa when the petition is filed."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City said Thursday that a petition will be filed through the U.S. State Department seeking the release into US custody of the two defendants.

There were no immediate comments from the Samoa government regarding the case.

Not yet in custody is another individual, Dan Wakefield, a U.S. citizen who was living in Samoa. Bearnson said the defendant may be back in the U.S. by now and could not comment further about the case while it is pending.

Co-defendants Scott Banks, Karen Banks, Karalee Thornock and Coleen Barlett were charged Thursday and have since been released pending another court appearance later this month.

The charges in the 135-count indictment against the defendants, include conspiracy, bringing illegal aliens to the United States, fraud and money laundering. If convicted, the seven defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison and fines up to US$500,000.

The indictment alleges the adoption scheme, targeting poor families, occurred between March 2002 and June 2005. It says that 81 children were placed with families in the U.S. who were told they were adopting children who were orphans, or living in dire conditions with parents who could not care for them.

The federal case comes almost two years after the State Department sent a notice to US citizens saying that a number of concerns about the international adoption process in Samoa had been brought to the attention of the U.S. government.

"U.S. citizens contemplating adoption in Samoa are strongly advised to exercise caution before proceeding with proposed adoptions," the notice said. "As part of this review process, a consular officer interviews birth parents of children being placed for adoption."

In June 2005, Samoa's Parliament amended the country's adoption laws, banning future off-island adoption agencies from setting up in Samoa and prohibiting the adoption of Samoan children by foreign couples. The only adoptions allowed would be in cases where the child or children being adopted have blood ties to the adoptive parents.

The changes follow cases widely publicized by Samoa and overseas media where Samoan parents seemed to have been lured into putting their children up for adoption by the promise of money. They also follow a case where a baby girl who was at a nanny's house awaiting adoption by an American couple died of malnutrition.

The federal indictment said the U.S. based non-profit group, Focus on Children (FOC) employed recruiters in Samoa, who would arrange for the Samoan children to be taken from their birth parents and placed in a "nanny home" which was paid for by FOC.

The indictment also cited the case of a female infant who died June 7, 2005 at the hospital, after having been returned by FOC to the birth parents on June 4, 2005. Medical officials in Samoa determined that the infant was very malnourished, dehydrated and had a chronic ulcer on her left foot, which had not been treated, the indictment said. PAGO

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