Investigation and Convictions in Adoption Fraud Scheme

Adoption Fraud Schemes, Ethiopia Intercountry Adoption,

On August 14, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that three individuals were sentenced in connection with adoption fraud schemes.

Mary Mooney was convicted in violation of 42 U.S.C. 14944 for Accreditation Fraud regarding adoptions conducted in Kazakhstan.

James Harding and Alisa Bivens pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 371 for conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with adoptions conducted in Ethiopia.

The DOJ explains that Harding, Bivens, and Mooney submitted fraudulent documents on behalf of International Adoption Guides (IAG) to facilitate adoptions of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents for a period from 2006 to 2009. The fraudulent documents included “contracts of adoption signed by orphanages that could not properly give the children up for adoption because, for example, the child in question was never cared for or never resided at the orphanage.” In addition, Harding and Bivens admitted that they had paid bribes to two Ethiopian officials to facilitate the adoptions.

The DOJ explained that it had presented evidence at Mooney's hearings establishing that she had made false statements to the Council on Accreditation (COA) to help facilitate the IAG's being accredited as an Adoption Service Provider (ASP). She admitted specifically to making false statements attesting to IAG's compliance with all relevant regulations, intentionally failing to list Bivens as an employee who was providing adoption services, and failing to disclose that Harding was functionally the head of the company. The DOJ established that these false statements were material to COA's decision to accredit IAG to conduct intercountry adoptions.

You may read the DOJ news release here: [PDF version].

On September 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) released its own article on the convictions [PDF version].

In the article, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) official James Love explained how he discovered the illicit activities of IAG while he was working at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. Love took note of the significant number of complaints against adoption agencies in Ethiopia. He stated in the course of his work, that he “noticed the more egregious and specific adoption fraud allegations were against IAG.” Love showed his findings to the Consular Section Chief, Scott Riedmann, and Riedmann agreed that it was necessary to explore the charges against IAG thoroughly. The investigation expanded to include the office of the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina (note that IAG was based in South Carolina).

In an interesting point, Love noted that “[a] lot of blogs, websites, and discussion forums had detailed information about IAG's operation.” He added that their investigation revealed that “[t]hese actors were very well known throughout the large and vocal adoption community…”

Throughout the investigation and subsequent prosecution, Riedmann worked with officials in Ethiopia to develop and implement a better process to prevent fraud in the future.

Despite the fraud discovered involving IAG, Riedmann stated that “[m]ost of the stakeholders involved in international adoptions do excellent work finding homes for children who need them…”

It is important for schemes such as IAG's to be uncovered not only to protect children and prospective parents, but also to ensure that intercountry adoptions by U.S. parents of children from countries all around the world can proceed in a lawful and ethical manner. It is worth noting that intercountry adoptions from Ethiopia have been significantly delayed, and in some cases blocked, since May of 2017 [see article]. While it is unclear whether the current situation in Ethiopia is related to the IAG case specifically, ASP fraud certainly undermines confidence in the intercountry adoption process.

One interesting point from the investigation was that investigators found pertinent information by researching IAG on the internet. Those who are considering intercountry adoption are well advised to seek guidance and carefully research ASPs before engaging in the process. Prospective parents may also consult with an experienced immigration attorney for guidance and submit specific questions to the DOS for further information.