CLEVELAND — Three people have been indicted on federal charges in connection with an FBI raid two years ago at European Adoption Consultants in Strongsville.
BREAKING: At least 2 people indicted in connection to an FBI raid of European Adoption Consultants in Strongsville two years ago. #WEWS— Tracy Carloss (@TracyCarloss) August 14, 2020
According to the indictment, Margaret Cole, who was the executive director of the agency, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false statements.
Debra Parris, who, according to the indictment, was responsible for managing the agency's Uganda adoption program, has been charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to commit VISA fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The third person named in the indictment, Dorah Mirembe, is a citizen of Uganda, and according to court records, handled EAC's legal representation and adoption-related services to the agency's clients in Uganda and has been charged with the following: conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to commit VISA fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.
“These defendants are accused of orchestrating an alleged scheme that bribed Ugandan officials, defrauded the United States and manipulated parents inside and outside of the country,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio. “As a result of this alleged conduct, prospective parents were deceived, hundreds of thousands of dollars were misused and innocent children were displaced from their homes.”
According to the indictment, Parris, Mirembe and other co-conspirators allegedly "engaged in, among other things, a criminal scheme to offer and pay bribes to Ugandan judges, Ugandan welfare officers, and other Ugandan officials to corruptly procure adoptions of Ugandan children in order to assist (EAC) with obtaining business and with directing business" to the adoption agency.
They are also accused of hiding information from the agency's clients regarding the "circumstances of the children to be adopted and concealing that the adoptions were procured through bribery and fraud" in order to obtain money from the agency's clients, the indictment states.
“The defendants allegedly resorted to bribery and fraud to engage in an international criminal adoption scheme that took children from their home countries in Uganda and Poland without properly determining whether they were actually orphaned. The defendants sought to profit from their alleged criminal activity at the expense of families and vulnerable children,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These charges clearly show that the Department of Justice is committed to protecting children worldwide, including those involved in the international adoption process.”
Parris, Cole and other co-conspirators are also accused of a criminal scheme that sought to deceive authorities in the United States responsible for regulating intercountry adoptions about the scheme to transfer a child from Poland to Parris' relatives without verifying that Parris' relatives were eligible for intercountry adoption, according to the indictment.
Authorities also state that Cole allegedly lied to Polish authorities who were responsible for intercountry adoptions in an attempt to maintain EAC's ability to procure adoptions from Poland.
“These three defendants preyed on the emotions of parents, those wanting the best for their child, and those wishing to give what they thought was an orphaned child a family to love,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI’s Cleveland Field Office. “These defendants allegedly lied to both sides of the adoption process, and bribed Ugandan officials who were responsible for the welfare of children. Parents, prospective parents and children were emotionally vested and were heartbroken when they learned of the selfishness and greed in which these three engaged. The FBI will never cease in its efforts to protect the innocent and unwitting from those who prey on that trust and confidence and we will vigorously pursue and hold those responsible accountable.”
In December 2016, the U.S. State Department temporarily debarred the agency for a period of three years. At the time, the agency had hundreds of clients with pending adoption service agreements, and it was required to transfer adoption cases and records to accredited adoption agencies.
Many consumers said they had paid European Adoption Consultants several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, but that the agency had not provided the services it promised, had not transferred their files, and had not refunded their money.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit in June 2017 that accused European Adoption Consultants and Cole of failing to deliver promised services and making misrepresentations, including:
- misrepresentations about the countries with which the agency had adoption programs
- consumers’ eligibility to enroll in certain adoption programs
- the length of time an adoption would take
- whether consumers would be able to adopt an infant from a certain country
- whether the agency properly distributed fees it collected from consumers.
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