European Adoption Consultants’ Staffer Pleads Guilty to Bribery, Fraud

The U.S. Justice Department reported today that Debra Parris, program manager at Ohio adoption agency European Adoption Consultants, has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and bribery in the adoption of children from Poland and Uganda.

Parris was indicted in August 2020 along with the executive director Margaret Cole and staff person Dorah Mirembe.

Cole is expected to go to trial in February 2022. Mirembe, the Justice Department says, is “still at large.”

Below is the press release from the U.S. Justice Department. You can also find it here.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Texas Woman Pleads Guilty to Schemes to Procure Adoptions from Uganda and Poland through Bribery and Fraud

A Texas woman who was a program manager at an Ohio-based international adoption agency pleaded guilty today in the Northern District of Ohio to schemes to procure adoptions of Ugandan and Polish children by bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. authorities.

According to court documents, Debra Parris, 69, of Lake Dallas, engaged in a scheme with others to bribe Ugandan officials to procure adoptions of Ugandan children by families in the United States. These bribes included payments to (a) probation officers intended to ensure favorable probation reports recommending that a particular child be placed into an orphanage; (b) court registrars to influence the assignment of particular cases to “adoption-friendly” judges; and (c) High Court judges to issue favorable guardianship orders for the adoption agency’s clients. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that she continued to direct the adoption agency’s clients to work with her alleged co-conspirator Dorah Mirembe, after knowing that Mirembe caused clients of the adoption agency to provide false information to the U.S. State Department for the purpose of misleading it in its adjudication of visa applications.

According to court documents, in a second scheme, after alleged co-conspirator Margaret Cole, the adoption agency’s Executive Director, learned that clients of the adoption agency determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Parris and her co-conspirator took steps to transfer the Polish child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that after the child was injured and hospitalized, Parris agreed with her co-conspirator to conceal their improper conduct from the U.S. State Department in an attempt to continue profiting from these adoptions.

Parris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and commit visa fraud in connection with the Uganda scheme, and conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with the Poland scheme. She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2022. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Trial against Cole is scheduled to commence on Feb. 7, 2022. Mirembe remains at large.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan for the Northern District of Ohio; and Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.

If you believe you are a victim of this offense, please visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/victim-witness-program or call (888) 549-3945.

The FBI’s Cleveland Field Office is investigating the case. 

Trial Attorneys Jason Manning and Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice of the Northern District of Ohio are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs assisted in the investigation.

The Fraud Section has lead responsibility for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and Cole and Mirembe are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.Topic(s): Foreign Corruption Component(s): Criminal DivisionCriminal – Criminal Fraud SectionUSAO – Ohio, Northern Press Release Number: 21-1140 Updated November 17, 2021

End of Press Release

Additional Information:

The Justice Department press release “Three Individuals Charged with Arranging Adoptions from Uganda and Poland Through Bribery and Fraud” from the August 2020 indictment is here.

I wrote about the August 2020 indictment here.

In 2016, the U.S. State Department debarred European Adoption Consultants for three years.

A 2004 article from Cleveland Magazine about Margaret Cole, “Families in Crisis: When Foreign Adoptions Go Wrong,” is here.

May justice prevail.

Deported Adoptees: NAAM

This is day 17 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Most people, when they think of international adoption, think of cute little babies and children (mostly Black and Brown) arriving at the airport and then living forever with their loving adoptive American families.

They don’t think of an 8-year-old Korean boy abused repeatedly by his adoptive father, who chained the boy outside on a dog’s metal leash stake and beat him, then locked him back in the closet where he was given bread and water. The boy grew up and served in the U.S. military, including a tour in Kuwait, defending America’s interests.They don’t think of the 10-year-old Ethiopian boy adopted by an American soldier, a single dad. who brought the boy to the US where he had his own pizza business as a young man. They don’t think of the 6-year-old boy from Morocco who grew up in the South and now speaks with a Texas drawl. And they don’t think of the little girl born in Jamaica whose leg was amputated due to cancer when she was in high school. All of them have been deported back to their birth countries, because they are not, to their surprise, U.S. citizens, despite having entered the country legally as the children of U.S. citizens.

Mike Davis, adopted from Ethiopia in 1976, deported in 2005. His wife and children live in the U.S.

The rest of the story here is that they, as many young Americans have, committed crimes and then served their time in U.S. jails or prison boot camps. Unlike the biological children born here, the adoptees were deported because, through no fault of theirs, they had not been given citizenship. The wrong paperwork was filed, or their parents thought they had automatic citizenship, or someone (not the adoptee) dropped the ball and maybe didn’t even realize it until too late.

Imagine being 30 or 40 years old, and suddenly ending up in a country where you don’t speak the language, can’t get an ID, can’t get a job, and have no family or friends. That soldier who served in Kuwait ate garbage for a few weeks after he arrived in South Korea, living under a bridge for weeks. He’s now 50 years old, rejected by his birth country for not being Korean enough, and by the U.S., for not being American enough.

Also-Known-As, an adoptee-founded, adoptee-led nonprofit, is among the organizations working to change this. They recently held an online event “Deported, Not Forgotten,” where four adoptees talked about their lives before and after deportation.

Also-Known-As created this brief YouTube video so you can hear their voices and see their faces. Listen to them tell their stories.

Then contact your Congressional representatives and Senators and ask them to sponsor the Adoptee Citizenship Act. You can find information here via the Adoptee Rights Law Center, which is led by an adult adoptee.

Advocating for citizenship for all international adoptees will take only a few minutes.

Also, if you can, please donate to the fundraiser for deported adoptees. Any amount will help, of course. $25 could pay an adoptee’s Internet for a month. $900 could pay for an airplane ticket so a wife, son, daughter, or sibling can visit their family member. Imagine the psychological and emotional hardships of being sent away from the country you thought was yours; the financial hardships are tremendous as well.

If you support adoption, and believe in National Adoption Awareness Month, help pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act for all adoptees, and also donate to support those who have been deported.

I Am Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 16 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

“A community built around mental health and wellness, by adoptees, for adoptees”: that is the focus of the nonprofit IAMAdoptee. Co-founder Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW, was adopted from South Korea when she almost six years old. She has worked in adoption for many years, including in private practice with intercountry adoptees and their families. That work was the basis for founding IAMAdoptee, which curates a wealth of mental health resources, directed primarily to internationally adopted people.

The wellness resources include suggestions for how to deal with Covid-19 isolation, lists of adoptee-led groups around the world, and articles and blog posts about a range of adoptee-related subjects. There is a checklist and overview for adoptees considering searching for birth family, with information about South Korea, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Paraguay. In “Community,” you can find information about culture camps and related organizations, about citizenship, about adoptee podcasts, and about adoptee-focused conferences.

Currently, IAMAdoptee is partnering with SideXSide, “a large scale documentary and oral history project, telling the story of 65+ years of inter-country adoption out of South Korea and 100 individuals, born in Korea, 1944–1995.” (I wrote about SideXSide here.) IAMAdoptee is hosting a series of Reflections on the Adoptee Journey, about the topics in SideXSide’s videos, such as Memory, Birth Family Reunion, and Searching for Answers. Each topic features a video from the SideXSide project, and then a reflection/conversation with an “esteemed lineup of intercountry adoptee clinical therapists,” facilitated by Joy Lieberthal Rho.

IAMAdoptee is actively adding mental health and wellness resources to their site. The Facebook page has additional information and resources. One recent post, for example, was about adult adoptees from Greece seeking to reinstate their citizenship.

The vision of IAMAdoptee is “an act of service to the adoptee community, a place for an intercountry adopted person to connect with others.” An excellent way to honor adoptees during National Adoption Awareness Month (November) is to follow their Facebook pages and websites, and to donate to ensure they can keep their good work going.

“Deported, Not Forgotten”: NAAM

Tomorrow (November 16, 2021, 6pm est) Also-Known-As is hosting an incredibly important event featuring four adult adoptees who were deported back to their country of origin, having lived their lives adopted by US families and thinking they were American citizens.

“Deported, Not Forgotten” will be hosted by Dr. Amanda Baden, who will talk with four adoptees who were deported back to countries where they had no family, friends, language, or connection. If you believe adoption is forever, if you support citizenship for adoptees, or if you care about adoptees, please pre-register and attend this free program at 6pm, east coast time.

Listen to adoptees. Support citizenship for all adoptees.

An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Perspective on Adoption: NAAM

This is day 15 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Aselefech Evans is an Ethiopian adoptee who arrived in the U.S. 27 years ago, at six years old, along with her twin sister. Aselefech describes herself as a politicized family preservationist.

About three years ago, she wrote a poignant, insightful post on her blog, about trauma and the “trauma-versery” that occurs every November on the anniversary of her arrival in the U.S. She re-posted it recently, for National Adoption Awareness Month.

An excerpt:

I remember that my new life was supposed to be enough. For some, it may be. But understand that the most resilient soul often still suffers in silence, no matter how well-adjusted they may  seem. My ability to get through this isn’t because I had a perfect life, but it’s because I hold onto the love of my birth and adoptive family—yet, I still struggle with the loss.

Here is the link to this post:

Aselefech and her mother in Ethiopia

Full disclosure: I am blessed to be Aselefech’s mom through adoption, and I could not love her more. I asked for her permission before sharing this, and she gave it. I am proud of her willingness to speak her truth.

Adoptees Connect: NAAM

This is day 14 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Adoptees Connect is an adoptee-led way for adult adoptees to connect. From their Facebook page: “This group is designed to be a safe space for adoptees to gather and share their experiences regarding their individual adoption journeys. We believe that being adopted can come with its own set of complexities that only another adoptee can truly understand. Through Adoptees Connect Groups, adult adoptees are able to empower one another through  encouragement, community,  as well as a concrete place to find their voices as they navigate their adoptee journeys together. 

Through our collective efforts, we strive to bring hope & healing to as many adoptees as possible by building lifelong connections between those who understand. Our goal is to let every adoptee know that they aren’t alone and the way they feel is very normal amidst a not-so-normal situation.”

The founder of Adoptees Connect is Pamela Karanova, an adoptee from Kentucky. Her vision in creating this organization was “to build person-to-person communities that provide validating spaces for Adult Adoptees. At Adoptees Connect, we focus on putting adoptee voices first by creating a safe and valuable adoptee-centric space, created by and for adoptees, where their voices can meet and be heard. In January 2018, the first connect groups were planted in Lexington, KY.

The groups stray away from the traditional support group model by placing a larger emphasis on building strong, healthy relationships with other adoptees. In just two short years, 45 connect groups have been planted in 42 cities and 27 states. It’s the hope of Adoptees Connect, Inc. to plant a group in every city, in every state in the country. This way, anywhere an adoptee might go, they will always have a community to fall back on. Our groups are designed to take online relationships offline, and to get to know the person behind the profile.”

Obviously the pandemic has caused changes in the ability for folx to gather in person. Here’s hoping that everyone stays healthy, and can get together via Zoom if not on person.

More information, including Pam’s blog posts, is available on Adoptee Connect’s Facebook page.

Visit www.adopteesconnect.com for details!

Bastard Nation: NAAM

This is day 13 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Some 25 years ago, my eyes began opening to many of the complexities of adoption. My children were all in elementary school, and I was working for the now defunct Joint Council on International Children Services, an umbrella group for international adoption agencies. In the mid-!990’s, Bastard Nation was founded, by and for adoptees, and I attended at least one of their early conferences. (In Virginia, near Dulles Airport? The mind fades.) I remember being initially startled by the boldness of the name: Bastards? Oh my. At the conference, I listened to the perspectives of adult adopted persons who wanted the same basic civil rights as we non-adopted people: the right to know who they are, the right to have their own unaltered birth certificates. I met folks and talked with them, getting to know them as individuals and hear their stories, their pain, their hopes. I attended workshops to learn about their advocacy plans.

Back then the Internet was a different animal, as was the adoption world. Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) held a lot of power in Washington, DC, with Congress, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents. Looking through “alt adoption” to see the arguments and online altercations was a slow slog. The pages themselves were gray and full of text only. Bill engaged with the Bastards, and there was something of a mutual respect there, if not admiration.

Bill died in 2004. NCFA has seen much change, in leadership and membership (so many agencies have closed!). Adoption itself has evolved as adult adoptees and birth parents have begun to speak out (and we adoptive parents have begun to listen and hear), and to bring about much-needed change.

Since its founding in 1996, Bastard Nation has stayed steadfast, unflinching, and true to its goals in its advocacy for adoptee rights. From their website: “Bastard Nation is dedicated to the recognition of the full human and civil rights of adult adoptees. Toward that end, we advocate the opening to adoptees, upon request at age of majority, of those government documents which pertain to the adoptee’s historical, genetic, and legal identity, including the unaltered original birth certificate and adoption decree.

Bastard Nation asserts that it is the right of people everywhere to have their official original birth records unaltered and free from falsification, and that the adoptive status of any person should not prohibit him or her from choosing to exercise that right. We have reclaimed the badge of bastardy placed on us by those who would attempt to shame us; we see nothing shameful in having been born out of wedlock or in being adopted.”

There has been progress in improved access to Original Birth Certificates by adoptees; Bastard Nation provides a wealth of state law information. There remains a long way to go. Bastard Nation has also taken advocacy positions on adoptee citizenship/deportation. The organization remains tireless, irreverent, and deeply committed to ensuring that adoptees have no less than their full human and civil rights. Check them out on Facebook, buy some merch, and support their valuable work.

Suicide Prevention: NAAM

This is day 12 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

National Adoption Awareness Month can be a exhausting burden to some adoptees. I’ve read many posts by adult adoptees saying they are ignoring NAAM as best they can. For those who have experienced and are processing trauma, the month can be especially hard. Some struggle mightily with losses and can feel worn down.

In the past several years, I have posted multiple times about adoptees and suicide, not because I believe this should be pathologized: it should not. There are many reasons to be hopeful, and most adoptees do not deal with suicidal ideation. Many may not deal with anxiety and depression, and for that, I am grateful.

When adult adoptees share their stories about their struggles, that is an opportunity to create community and especially to create hope, and to let adoptees of any age know that there are resources and people who understand, and who want them to stay.

United Suicide Survivors International puts “the lived expertise of suicide attempt and loss survivors into action through leadership, action, and advocacy. They serve as a home for people who have experienced suicide loss, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts and feelings.” They hold a variety of free webinars every month, which are always thoughtful and well-done. You can go to their Facebook page here.

If you need help now, you can find resources here.

Just in case: The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255, available 24/7. You can also text 741741 and reach a counselor, also 24/7.

USSI”s links include an e-learning for anyone thinking about telling their own suicide-related story: that’s a big decision that should be made carefully. I took the class, and found it helpful.

With gratitude to those adult adoptees who have shared their experiences with suicidal ideation, here is the YouTube link to the USSI webinar, “Adoption and Suicide Prevention.”

Take good care, everyone.

Original Photo by Maureen McCauley

Two Opportunities for Adoptees to Speak Out: NAAM

This is day 11 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Here are two opportunities for adult adoptees to be heard at large forums. Please share with internationional and transracial adult adoptees.

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The first invitation is from the U.S. State Department for international adoptees. It is via an email subscription list called Adoption Notices. I have had trouble finding a link to the subscription list sign-up on the State Department website, and have sent an email to the adoption office at State asking for a clean link; they get a lot of email, so it could be a while. The link to International Adoption at the U.S. State Department is here. You can email the Office of Children’s Issues at Adoption@state.gov.

November 10, 2021 

Event:     Interactive Discussion Invitation:  What Do Adult Adoptees Want to Hear from the Department of State on Intercountry Adoption?
Date:       November 30, 2021
Time:      2:30 – 4:00 p.m. EST
RSVP:      Adoption@state.gov (NLT November 28, 2021) – Response should include your name, email address, and if willing to share, the country from which you were adopted. Participation details will be sent by email on November 29, in the afternoon, to those who RSVP’d. 

The Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, invites interested adult U.S. intercountry adoptees to an interactive discussion with Marisa Light, Chief of the Adoption Oversight Division, on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. EST.

Adult adoptee voices and perspectives are valued and critical to our everyday work on intercountry adoption.  We recognize the expertise that comes from lived experience and want to hear from you.  Last year during our November town hall with adoptees, we ​asked participants to tell us what they wanted us to know about their experience with adoption.  We heard your stories and perspectives and valued the opportunity to learn from you.  Given the tremendous turn out and desire to give everyone a chance to share who wanted to, we actively listened but weren’t able to engage in conversation about these experiences. This year, we want to ​provide you with the opportunity to ask questions and have more of a dialogue about the issues that are important to you. 

As the U.S. Central Authority for the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation on Intercountry Adoption, the Department implements safeguards to protect children and families and maintain the viability of intercountry adoption for children in need of permanency.  We uphold the principles of the Convention – that children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding;” that priority should be given “to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin;” that intercountry adoption should be considered only when “a suitable family cannot be found in [the child’s] State of origin;” and that measures should be taken “to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.”  These principles inform our work and are reflected in our regulation and oversight of accredited adoption service providers. We’re happy to talk more about what this means in practical terms on a day to day basis, how we collaborate with other governments and other U.S. government agencies, current trends in intercountry adoption, and anything else you may be wondering about.

We appreciate wide dissemination of this invitation to internationally adopted persons who may be interested in participating and learning more about what we do. This meeting will take place virtually and will not be recorded.

Sincerely,

Office of Children’s Issues
Adoption Oversight Division
U.S. Department of State

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The second invitation, for transracial, multiracial, and/or international adoptees, is from NPR’s All Things Considered, via Facebook.

Adoptees should always be the first considered for stories or forums on adoption. Again, please share this with adult adoptees who may be interested.

SideXSide, Side By Side: NAAM

This is day 10 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Side By Side” or “SideXSide” is an adoptee-led, adoptee-focused online video installation. That is, Side By Side is a collection of 100 stories of Korean adoptees, raised in seven countries, speaking six languages, sharing both similar and disparate experiences.

The filmmakers are Glenn Morey (he is a Korean adoptee), and Julie Morey. From the website: “We did not seek to insert ourselves, as filmmakers, into their truth. In this, we were absolutely determined. That is why every participant was filmed in exactly the same way, on the same neutral background, with the same lighting and composition. We asked every participant to respond to the same four questions, in order to organize their narrative chronologically: (1) Tell us about your origin; (2) tell us about your adoption or aging-out; (3) tell us about how you grew up; and (4) tell us about the years when you became an adult, up until now.”

The filmmakers go on: “These stories, collectively, do not represent a political agenda of any kind. The purpose of this project is only to open an intensely experiential window of oral history, of social and academic understanding, and of empathy through art. We, as the filmmakers, ask you to recognize each story as that teller’s truth in life. We do not present them here to be judged.”

The Side By Side videos are “neither an endorsement nor an indictment of inter-country adoption.” They seek only to “promote a greater understanding of adoption out of South Korea, and perhaps more broadly, inter-country adoption at large—widely practiced, not only in the wake of wars and geopolitical crises that separate millions of children from their biological families, but also in the course of family disruption and poverty.”

The 100 videos can be sorted by birth year, country, subject matter, and more. In addition to the 100 videos, there is also a prize-winning Side By Side short documentary available on the website that is well worth watching. All of the videos and the documentary are poignant, candid, genuine, wise. Some may also have potentially disturbing or triggering content.

The wonderful site I Am Adoptee (“created by adoptees, for adoptees”) is offering a “pairing” of the Side By Side videos with interviews by adult adoptees commenting on the video-stories.

Here is a recent post from the IAMAdoptee Facebook page: “IAMAdoptee presents the online premiere of ’11 Short Stories’ paired with a conversation with IAMAdoptee co-founder, Joy Lieberthal Rho, and clinical therapist, Katie Naftzger, LICSW, adopted from South Korea. Katie shares all the ways adoptees have internalized the telling of their adoption story by others and begin to give themselves permission to take their time in creating their own story. You can view the eighth Side By Side Project video, ’11 Short Stories’ and listen to Joy and Katie’s reflections video on our website here.”

Side By Side is an incredibly powerful project.