U.S. PROSECUTORS CLARIFY SAMOA ADOPTION PROBE

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APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, March 29) – United States Attorney Brett Tolman, fellow attorneys and agents prosecuting members of the Focus On Children (FOC) adoption agency, say they have tremendous respect for the Samoan Government and legal system.

A statement dated 26 March, issued on their behalf by U.S Attorney's Office for the District of Utah, says: "We are offended by comments to the contrary."

But when Samoa's legal system and the U.S Consular Office imposed greater controls over FOC adoptions, ways were found by the agency to go around them, U.S. Attorney says.

The office details other allegations against FOC which in full reads:

"The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Utah would like the people of Samoa to know that it is committed to its effort to seek justice in the case against Focus on Children (FOC). We recognize that children and families are at the core of the Samoan culture, and our hearts go out to those who were deceived by representatives of FOC and those who have been affected by their alleged criminal actions.

"U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and the attorneys and agents who work with him have tremendous respect for the Samoan government and legal system. We are offended by comments to the contrary by those associated with FOC, whose motives, we hope, are apparent. It must be clear that we recognize that any system can be subject to deception; that is precisely what occurred here. The indictment against FOC is not a condemnation of the Samoan legal system. To the contrary, we are appreciative of the efforts by those in the legal system to place greater controls on and increase scrutiny of the adoption process.

"For example, in 2004, a directive was issued requiring a personal interview with a judge of every birth parent purporting to relinquish children for adoption. In addition to these new procedures required in the legal system, the United States government instituted new controls as well. From August 2004 through the last visa issued in June 2005, U.S. Consular Officials did not approve any adoption petition without a personal interview of the birth parents. Yet, it is clear that FOC and its representatives adjusted the scheme to continue the deception and find ways around these increased controls.

"Birth parents in these later adoptions that were subject to increased scrutiny were told, directly or subtly, what they should say to satisfy the judges and the U.S. government.

In the end, the false promises to birth parents to induce their purported consent - including the claim that their children would return to Samoa at the age of 18 - remained the same. Contrary to public statements by representatives of FOC, it is important to note that the affidavits for relinquishment were not routinely translated for birth families by those affiliated with FOC.

"When U.S. officials interviewed Samoan birth families all over the country and translated for them the contents of those affidavits, the birth parents were surprised at what the documents stated. The birth parents interviewed took exception to critical provisions such as the false statement that they could not take care of their children, which, according to FOC, constituted ‘abandonment’ under U.S. law. In truth, virtually every family that was interviewed indicated that they, along with extended family, were perfectly capable of caring for their children. Affidavits contained other false statements as well. For instance, some of the affidavits falsely listed a larger number of children than the birth family actually had, and others falsely indicated that the identity of the birth father was not known or that he had no interest in the child. All of these misrepresentations were designed to paint a picture for Samoan and U.S. government officials, as well as adoptive families in the United States, that the circumstances of the child's family were very dire and that relinquishment and adoption were justified. In addition, the affidavits routinely stated that the birth parents were, as of the time the documents were signed, releasing children to FOC custody. In fact, a significant number of the birth parents interviewed stated that their children continued to live with them for weeks or months afterwards until representatives for FOC came to pick up the children for delivery to adoptive parents. Other families stated that even in those circumstances where the child did enter FOC care, they often met with their children and even took them home for several days at a time. In short, the affidavits purported to sever all parental rights yet the birth parents continued to maintain a claim to the child. All of this underscores the belief by Samoan birth parents that they could continue to have an ongoing relationship with their children just as FOC promised - including having their children return home at age 18. There were many other problems with affidavits, despite the recent claims in the media by representatives for FOC that the affidavits were subject to strict legal review. Many of these additional problems are referenced in the indictment; others will also be brought out at trial. According to interviews with birth parents, these problems range from exaggerated claims regarding the number of children in a family to affidavits bearing signatures purporting to relinquish parental rights that are complete forgeries.This case has a complex history and demonstrates a scheme by FOC to deceive birth parents, adoptive parents, and governments. Over time, FOC adjusted its efforts in the scheme in response to increased controls by the Samoan legal system and the United States government. Charges were filed in the United States only after extensive investigation, interviews of scores of affected and knowledgeable individuals, and extensive review of hundreds of documents in an effort to discover the truth.The efforts by the representatives of FOC and its attorney to shift the responsibility for these acts from themselves are to no avail. While they may now hide behind what appear to be facially valid legal documents, when the truth about the facts behind these documents is known - including the false promises made to the birth parents, the continued residence of children with parents after they signed relinquishment papers, and the false statements contained in the documents themselves - the deceit involved in this scheme to remove children from their families is clear. Two examples of this scheme follow: A birth father was approached by Tagaloa Ieti and asked whether he would consent to the adoption of his daughter. He flatly said he would not. Undeterred, FOC procured a birth certificate which omitted the name of father entirely. Subsequently, when the adoptive family arrived in Samoa to retrieve the child, the birth father discovered what was happening and tried to stop it. He went to FOC's attorney but was told he could do nothing because he was not listed on the birth certificate. He was also falsely told by FOC's attorney or his staff that it was too late because the adoption paperwork had already been approved. The adoptive family learned of the birth father's efforts and expressly told FOC that they would not go forward with the adoption if the birth father objected. The adoptive family was assured, however, by FOC that the birth father did not want the child and that he had ulterior motives. The adoption went through and the father still grieves. In another case, a birth family took their children back from FOC while the adoptive family was in Samoa. FOC got the police involved who located the children and took them to the adoptive family. According to Dan Wakefield, FOC's attorney told him to get the children off the island immediately. The United States Attorney's Office in Utah will continue to encourage adoptive families to open lines of communication with the birth families and send letters and photos. This process has begun and the happiness and relief expressed by Samoan families upon receiving photos and letters are clear. The United States Attorney's Office in Utah expresses its gratitude to the Samoan government for the assistance it has provided and the permission to investigate the case. We consider Samoa a partner in the efforts to discover the whole truth and bring justice to pass in this important case."

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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