Adoption Agency Director Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Bribery in Ethiopia

An international adoption agency staff person pled guilty yesterday in a South Carolina court to providing fraudulent documents to the State Department and to bribing Ethiopian officials. The tragedies created by these actions are unforgivable, and families in the US and in Ethiopia continue to suffer as a result. The ramifications for other adoption agencies and the scrutiny they now find themselves under will be intense–I hope. Particularly important will be Ethiopia’s reaction to the bribing of officials there in the name of international adoption.

Alisa Bevins, former director of Ethiopia programs in the US for the adoption agency International Adoption Guides, yesterday pled guilty to fraud in Ethiopia adoptions. She admitted that she, along with others, submitted fraudulent documents to the US State Department and paid bribes to Ethiopian officials in order to facilitate adoptions.

The “others” would be Mary Mooney, former executive director of IAG, James Harding, former programs director for IAG, and Haile Mekonnen, the IAG Ethiopian programs staffer in Ethiopia. Mooney and Harding are awaiting trial. Mekonnen has not yet been charged and is, I believe, still in Ethiopia.

The fraudulent documents were created to move children from orphanages into adoptive US families, but these children may well have had living family in Ethiopia, may not have been eligible for adoption, and may not have been in orphanages listed on their paperwork.

According to the Department of Justice press release: “In entering her guilty plea, Bivens also admitted that she and others paid bribes to two Ethiopian officials so that those officials would help with the fraudulent adoptions. The first of these two foreign officials, an audiologist and teacher at a government school, accepted money and other valuables in exchange for providing non-public medical information and social history information for potential adoptees to the conspirators. The second foreign official, the head of a regional ministry for women’s and children’s affairs, received money and all-expenses-paid travel in exchange for approving IAG’s applications for intercountry adoptions and for ignoring IAG’s failure to maintain a properly licensed adoption facility. Sentencing for Bivens will be scheduled at a later date.”

Per my post “Trial Scheduled for International Adoption Guides,” Bivens could receive a lesser punishment for this plea, and will not go to trial. Mooney and Harding are still scheduled to go to trial in September. I don’t know what the impact of Bevins’ guilty plea will be on the Mooney/Harding trial, but they could make a plea agreement as well, right up to the time of the trial.

Many people for many years have raised concerns about the role of money in international adoptions. This case shines a light on money as bribery, offered to and accepted by those ostensibly involved in international adoption, not child trafficking. It’s painful to consider, and it would be extremely naive not to do so.

None of this can undo the damage done to vulnerable children and families here in the US and in Ethiopia. Let’s hope, though, that justice is served in this case.


12 thoughts on “Adoption Agency Director Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Bribery in Ethiopia

  1. I used this agency, and there were so many “red flags” that I did not realize were red flags until I talked to other people about their adoption journeys later. When we expressed an interest to visit their home-town they said it should not be done under any circumstances (my supposedly orphaned children’s father was very much alive and they had a large extended family). We were given false ages, when we asked to clarify them because they were obviously not that young, they gave us “real” aged a few years older. It was not until years later when our 5th grade son started growing a mustache that we found their uncle on facebook to find out our son was 11 when he came home, not 8 like they corrected it to, or 6 like they initially said. I was even told by Alisa, “We have ways of getting our cases through faster than others.” She just said it was because Haile had a great relationship with the American Embassy. We had no idea they would be bribing them. We were also instructed to say very specific things at the embassy and before we went up to the counter and before we were called Haile disappeared into a back room. Which I thought odd because all the other guides there with adoptive families did not seem to have that same access. Now we have had to pay $600 a child to have their ages changed once (which they said they would do in-country, then sent us home with the initially reported birth dates). They said it was no problem to change it in America. Turns out the re-application process was $1800 total because we have 3 children. Now, we are having to pay a lawyer $2500 to have their ages changed yet again and will again have to pay $1800 to change their Greencards, all before applying for citizenship, which has another fee. They really have hurt out family financially thought their negligence and fraud. Not to mention that a situation such as an age change is unprecedented and cumbersome in the “system”. I hope justice is served. I love my children, I love my family, I just really wish this had not happened. We are now linked with their biological family via facebook and I do know there was some neglect of these children and they are where they need to be. It just upsets me that their origin story was falsified. But luckily through the beauty of the internet, they can still have a relationship with their Ethiopian family. They have even been able to skype. And they adjusted well and were sent to the orphanage with the blessing of their father who wanted them to have a mother in their lives. But still, this should not have been kept from us or our children.

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  4. Child trafficking should be added to the charges if both parents are live you can’t adopted them out that is Child trafficking

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  7. MME – thanks for this post and I will go ahead and join in the gratitude to the families who worked hard to bring the charges against these evil people and relief that at least one guilty is in the bag.

    In response to Anonymous, who enjoys trolling about me on various ethics related posts, she claims she knows about our firsthand experiences with fraud and subsequent adoptions after that experience. This is what is known in technical speak as “talking out her ass.” I am an adoptive mother, one who hates international adoption because of what it does to first families and children. I write about it often on my blog, and Anonymous seems to fill in the cracks of what I do not share with her/his own version of what went down in my family.

    If anyone wants to know how I feel about adoption you can judge me all you want from my own words, and not Anonymous’s.

    My life, my story isn’t perfect. My views on adoption keep changing. In the last year I have also grown to include domestic adoption and surrogacy births as seriously ethically problematic and are on the list of “things I don’t support in most cases.” It takes time, reading, compassion to keep opening up to the possibility that things we are taught and assume about adoption are totally wrong. It takes listening to adoptees, and getting to know first mothers and fathers who’ve lost their children to adoption. Just because my views have morphed and changed over time doesn’t make me a villain. I would like to think that makes me open minded and teachable.

    My kids that were adopted know their families, talk to them often, they know their stories, they visit Ethiopia, we have had Ethiopian people living with us since they were adopted to help us maintain Amharic and have positive Ethiopian role models. they have connection and 100% support from me- their secondary mother- to BE who they are:Ethiopian. I am working hard to ensure that if/when they choose to spend more time in Ethiopia with family in a few years, they will not be strangers in a strange land. They know they are allowed to visit anytime, call anytime. They have independent from me relationships with Ethiopian family.

    And I am with you, sometimes I despair that all my talking about ethics and fraud in international adoption won’t be heard and that I can’t fight it. But then I will occasionally get an email from a prospective adoptive parent who says because of my words they walked away from international adoption. No, it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. So me, you, we shouldn’t give up shouting from the rooftops. Hate me all you want, make up crap about me all you want, but we are paddling in the same boat, hoping for the same things. For adoption as an institution to stop. Because every time adoptions stop, there are less broken families.

    So happy IAG has come under such public fire, and I can only hope that this keeps happening.

  8. Reblogged this on The adopted ones blog and commented:
    Yesterday, I was in such a peaceful place, until I read the plea linked in this post, last night, I went to bed angry.
    Angry that any adoptee has to have this as their adoption story.

  9. I’m going to go waaaaaaay out on a limb and guess that the vast majority of Ethiopia PAPs/APs will simply insist that it’s a “few bad eggs”, “the good outweighs the bad” and/or claim “I don’t know why folks insist on focusing on the bad side of adoption! adoption is beautiful! Ethiopian kids are way better off in the USA than with their first parents!! Always””

    I’m also quite certain that two specific APs, both of whom adopted TWICE from Ethiopia, will speak out in praise of this verdict — both have come to realise that the big bucks they spent provided the financial incentive for unscrupulous people to traffic vulnerable Ethiopian kids for fun and profit. It’s admirable that they are speaking out NOW, but it literally makes me SICK that both encountered falsified paperwork during the course of their first adoption; hired an independent investigator to look into it; decided the information the investigation found wasn’t too different from what their agency told them; completed the adoption; then ALMOST INSTANTANEOUSLY TURNED AROUND AND ADOPTED FROM ETHIOPIA AGAIN.

    First hand experience with FRAUD in an Ethiopian adoption did NOT stop the lovely ladies of and from aadopting from Ethiopia a SECOND TIME! Oh, yes, they investigated, investigated more than the first time (admirably, I might add! bravely! it’s difficult and SO the right thing to do) but went through with the SECOND ADOPTION anyways. Which is scary as all get-out. Both amommies truly did try to to do the right thing, they wanted to provide a home to an Ethiopian kid that truly needed one, they went above and beyond in order to to try to avoid repeating the mistakes of adoption #1 in adoption #2… but first-hand experience with fraud did not stop them. They’ve explained, in detail, why they feel their actions are above board… but, um, they adoped in 2010, 2011 and 2013. YEARS after the fraud/corruption/trafficking of ET kids had hit the news — with SUBSTANTIATED allegations.

    I don’t think you can save well-intentioned PAPs/APs from themselves. Even the ones who truly claim they WANT to do the right thing… don’t actually care about fraud/corruption/trafficking until they get however many foreign kids they wanted home. Only AFTER adoptions are finalized, do the adopters “see the light”, speak out against “fraud”, espouse the importance of “family preservation”.

    Rare is the adopter that does it BEFORE getting the kid they spent big bucks on home!

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