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Four current and former employees of International Adoption Guides Inc. (IAG), an adoption services provider, have been indicted by a grand jury in South Carolina for allegedly conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with IAG’s adoption services in Ethiopia. IAG is a South Carolina company that identified children in Ethiopia for adoption and arranged for their adoption by U.S.-based parents.
“The defendants are accused of obtaining adoption decrees and U.S. visas by submitting fraudulent adoption contracts signed by orphanages that never cared for or housed the children, thus undermining the very laws that are designed to protect the children and families involved,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman.
The defendants are James Harding, the international program director and coordinator for IAG; Alisa Bivens, who oversaw the Ethiopian operations from the U.S.; the company’s executive director, Mary Mooney; and Haile Mekonnen, an Ethiopian national who ran IAG’s operations on the ground in Ethiopia.
According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly engaged in a five year conspiracy to violate laws relating to the adoption of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents. The alleged scheme involved, among other things, paying orphanages to “sign off” on contracts of adoption with the adopting parents as if the children had been raised by those orphanages — even though the children had never resided in those orphanages and had not been cared for or raised there. These orphanages could not, therefore, properly offer these children up for adoption, prosecutors said. In some instances, according to the government, the children resided with a parent or relative.
As part of the charged conspiracy, the defendants then allegedly submitted or caused to be submitted these fraudulent contracts of adoption to Ethiopian courts in order to secure adoption decrees, and submitted or caused to be submitted the fraudulent contracts of adoption and the fraudulently procured adoption decrees to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia in order to obtain U.S. visas for the children to travel to the United States to be with their new families. The indictment also charges that the defendants’ scheme involved paying bribes to an Ethiopian government official and agreeing to create counterfeit U.S. Customs and Immigration Service forms that were to be submitted to the Ethiopian government.
The charge of conspiring to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost.
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