Another Adoption Agency Worker Pleads Guilty to Fraud: This Time, In Uganda

You may be aware that, in 2014, the U.S. Justice Department brought charges of fraud and corruption against the staff of International Adoption Group for their work in Ethiopia. The three U.S. employees (Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens) ultimately pleaded guilty and were sentenced in 2017.

This week, the Justice Department announced that Robin Longoria pleaded guilty to “Conspiracy to Facilitate Adoptions from Uganda Through Bribery and Fraud.”

Longoria was an adoption agency worker most recently with A Love Beyond Borders, a COA-Hague accredited adoption agency based in Denver, CO. She is still listed on their staff page.

Longoria pleaded guilty for “her role in a scheme to corruptly facilitate adoptions of Ugandan children through bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. adoptive parents and the U.S. Department of State.” The Justice Department notice says Longoria “managed aspects of an international program in an Ohio-based adoption agency.” Longoria worked for the now-closed agency European Adoption Consultants (EAC), based in Ohio.

The U.S. State Department debarred EAC in 2016, and upheld the debarment in 2017. In February 2017, the FBI raided EAC, “as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. According to LinkedIn, Longoria joined A Love Beyond Borders (ALBB) in February 2017.

ALBB has apparently removed Robin Longoria’s Staff profile from their page. I took the screenshot this morning.

Yesterday, Robin Longoria pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Ohio court to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to commit wire fraud and to commit visa fraud.” Sentencing will take place on as yet unnamed date.

An FBI Special Agent said “We are pleased that Ms. Longoria has accepted responsibility for her role in facilitating an international adoption scam.”

All of us who have been involved in international adoption are also pleased about that. I find it significant that the Justice Department brought IAG to justice for their Ethiopia programs, and now Longoria has pleaded guilty to crimes in Uganda. I have no inside information, but feel confident that this guilty plea came as the result of some intensive investigations by the Justice Department over the course of years. “This defendant has admitted to playing a part in a conspiracy in which judges and other court officials…were paid bribes to corrupt the adoption process,” said a Justice Department attorney. Another said, “The defendant compromised protection for vulnerable Ugandan children…”

There are “co-conspirators” mentioned in the Justice Department press release. which suggests that others could be named. Longoria and her co-conspirators agreed to pay bribes in Uganda that were disguised as fees to corruptly influence “adoption-friendly judges;” they also concealed these bribes from the adoption agency’s clients, the adoptive parents. Further, Longoria and her co-conspirators created false documents for the State Department “to mislead it in its adjudication of visa applications for the Ugandan children being considered for adoption.”

Fraud, corruption, and deceit all underly the adoptions which Longoria and her co-conspirators facilitated. Their actions, along with those of the IAG staff, create storm clouds over other adoption agencies, and over the Hague Adoption Convention accreditation process. IAG staff lied to the Council on Accreditation on their application for Hague accreditation. COA renewed EAC’s accreditation in April 2016 for a period of four years.

COA no longer oversees the Hague accreditation process. As of August 2017, the sole accrediting entity is IAAME. Several adoption agencies have lost accreditation either temporarily or permanently since then; others have voluntarily given up their accreditation.

These legal and accreditation issues are important. They don’t, however, convey the heartache caused by these crimes: the Ugandan children and their original families, and the U.S. adoptive families. The damage done to them will remain forever. I have no doubt that a lot of people helped bring this case to fruition, and that the investigation took a lot of time and money. I am grateful for the integrity of those willing to pursue these cases, and I appreciate the work of the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. State Department, and everyone involved.

Among those are the tireless folks of Reunite, which helps to preserve families and reunited those who have been separated by illicit adoptions in Uganda. Reunite sees this as “a first step in a much longer journey,” and hopes that justice will come “to all those in America and Uganda who were involved in these corrupt and unethical adoptions.” I hope so too.

If COA Stops Accrediting Adoption Agencies, Will International Adoptions End to the USA?

New requirements could mean that the Council on Accreditation (COA) will no longer accredit adoption agencies to do international adoptions. That could have a devastating effect on programs around the world.

Anyone following international adoption knows that the numbers of adoptions have declined sharply in recent years. The reasons are many. The adoption agencies which are still operating must be accredited under The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and in accordance with the Universal Accreditation Act (UAA). COA has for years been the only accrediting entity.

On October 6, 2017, COA sent the following letter to adoption service providers (ASPs):

Dear Colleague,

As you know, the Department of State (the Department) is requiring COA to make significant changes in the nature and scope of our work in ways which will fundamentally change our responsibilities and role as an accrediting entity and which are inconsistent with COA’s philosophy and mission.

Additionally, we have serious concerns regarding the impact of these changes in terms of (a) the potential further reduction in the number of children who are afforded the opportunity of finding permanent homes in the United States by virtue of their countries of origin having found the activities underlying those changes to be an infringement of their sovereign rights or unduly burdensome; (b) the sustainability of small ASPs given the anticipated significantly increased accreditation fees and costs; and, (c) the capacity of prospective adoptive parents to pursue intercountry adoptions due to the pass through of these costs.

For more than 40 years, COA has been the leading accreditor of agencies providing child welfare services, including domestic and international adoption. We take these responsibilities very seriously. Accordingly, we have advised Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Carl Risch, that these and other changed circumstances will render COA unable to perform its duties as an Accrediting Entity.

The next step will be for COA to meet with the Department to discuss a resolution. If one is not reached, we will continue to provide accreditation services during a 14 month transitional period after which our designation as an accrediting entity will end.

What does this mean for you? For now, please know that it is “business as usual”. COA will continue to perform all of its accreditation and monitoring and oversight activities.
Given our long relationship with the Department and the adoption community and our commitment to supporting intercountry adoption, this has been a very difficult decision. It was taken only after lengthy consultations with members of the COA board, our senior staff and most especially with Jayne and her team. She and they have been and are nothing short of amazing.

Thank you and have a great weekend.

Richard Klarberg
President & CEO, Council on Accreditation

 

In July, the US State Department authorized a new accrediting entity for Hague Convention adoptions. This new entity does not have the years of experience that COA does, and COA has not been without its controversies and stumbling blocks. There are currently no other accrediting entities. If (and it’s a big if) COA no longer accredits adoption agencies, international adoption will be severely impacted.

The COA letter refers to increased costs and significant changes being required by the State Department. Among them could be this one: On October 5, 2017, the US State Department posted a “Foreign Supervised Provider Update.” The FAQ goes through the requirements that adoption service providers (ASPs) must adhere to in regard to their staff working in country. Agencies generally hire, for example, Ethiopians who speak English and Amharic (as well as perhaps other languages) to locate children who may need adoption, to translate documents, to file government forms, to assist adoptive parents, and other tasks involved in the adoption process in Ethiopia. The ASP is responsible for the behavior of their “foreign supervised providers,” (FSPs) who to my understanding are the people who help or facilitate the adoptions as opposed to those who are couriers, guards, or drivers, for example. To maintain accreditation, the ASPs must provide documentation to COA of their oversight of the foreign supervised providers.

If you read through the FAQ, it’s clear that the oversight isn’t always easy. Some FSPs are reluctant to disclose their fees or to sign documents about their services. My guess is that the requirements (which are not new) for FSPs have been difficult to implement, but may sometimes be part of the cause for fraud in adoptions; hence, the reason for the State Department to be ramping up the urgency that agencies comply.

I have no doubts that there are many other conversations occurring in regard to how to properly regulate international adoptions. It is an astonishingly complex task, one that has grown in complexity astronomically in the last decade or so. Adult adoptees are voicing concerns. Some advocate an end to intercountry adoption; many want to see much better accountability and transparency in the process. Adoptive and prospective adoptive parents are watching the global developments closely. Adoption agencies are contemplating and speculating on next steps.  Child welfare experts in the US and in other sending and receiving countries are no doubt considering many options. There are growing movements to end orphanages. It’s quite the perfect storm for international adoption. Here’s hoping the voices of adopted people and of birth/first parents will be clearly sought out and heard.