Three women were charged Friday in a 13-count indictment for their alleged roles in an adoption scam involving Ugandan and Polish children with bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding adoptive parents, U.S. authorities, and a Polish regulatory authority. Two of the women were charged with FCPA offenses.
Debra Parris, 68, of Lake Dallas, Texas, was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, three substantive FCPA counts and three substantive counts of money laundering.
Dorah Mirembe, 41, of Kampala, Uganda, was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, three substantive FCPA counts and three substantive counts of money laundering.
Margaret Cole, 73, of Strongsville, Ohio, was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of making a false statement to a U.S. accrediting entity, and one count of making a false statement to a Polish authority.
The DOJ didn’t name the adoption agency Cole and Parris worked for, but local reports from Ohio said the FBI has been investigating a now-closed non-profit agency called European Adoption Consultants that was based near Cleveland. In late 2016, the State Department debarred the agency for three years. The FBI raided the agency’s offices in February 2017. Cole was the executive director of European Adoption Consultants (EAC).
With respect to the Uganda scheme, the DOJ said that Parris, Mirembe, and others engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to Ugandan officials, including judges and welfare officers, to secure the adoption by families in the United States of Ugandan children who were not properly determined to be orphaned, or were not eligible for intercountry adoption.
Some of the bribes were paid to welfare officers who recommended children be placed in orphanages without properly being determined to be orphans. One welfare report falsely stated that the whereabouts of a child’s father were unknown. In other instances, children were moved to orphanages in Kampala, more than two hours away from available orphanages where the children were from.
Bribes were also paid to Ugandan court registrars, who would assign the hearings to corrupt “adoption-friendly” judges. The judges were also bribed to obtain guardianship orders that allowed EAC to bring the children to the U.S. for adoption, the DOJ said.
To fund and disguise the bribery, EAC began charging its clients “Foreign Program Fees” that often totaled more than $10,000 per client, according to the DOJ.
According to the indictment, some clients of EAC believed the children were not knowingly given up for adoption by their birth mothers, and some of the children were returned to their families in Uganda.
In one instance in 2016, EAC sent a client a corruptly-obtained welfare report that falsely stated the child’s mother was “helpless [and] cannot provide the basic needs of the child” and proceeded with the adoption.
After receiving the child from EAC, the client believed some of the information on the welfare was inaccurate and coordinated with a person in Uganda to visit the child’s village. When Parris became aware of the visit, she called the client and told them that they should not investigate further and that the activity was putting EAC’s ability to facilitate other adoptions from that village at risk, according to the DOJ.
The client alerted a U.S. social worker, and later traveled to Uganda to reunite the child with their birth mother and relinquished parental rights.
The DOJ said that between 2013 and 2016, EAC and Mirembe procured more than 30 Ugandan children for U.S. parents.
The indictment also included a scheme to defraud the U.S. and make false statements to adaption regulators in the U.S. and Poland related to the adoption of Polish children by U.S. parents.
Regarding the Poland scheme, the DOJ said that after clients of their EAC determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Cole and Parris took steps to transfer the child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption and one of whom had a criminal arrest record.
After the child was “physically abused,” Cole and Parris took steps to conceal their improper conduct from the entity responsible for accrediting U.S. intercountry adoption agencies, and from the Polish authority responsible for intercountry adoptions, to continue profiting from the adoptions.
In September 2019, Robin Longoria, 58, of Mansfield, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court in Ohio to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to commit wire and visa fraud for her role in the Uganda adoption bribe scam. Longoria hasn’t been sentenced yet. A hearing is scheduled for October 14, 2020.