This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The former operators of an adoption agency found to have fraudulently convinced Samoan parents to give up their children are asking a federal judge to reduce their monthly restitution payments.
The money is designated for a trust fund to ensure birth and adoptive families stay in touch. It's unclear how much money has been paid into the fund so far, but one parent said the money is being used in creative ways to benefit parents and children alike.
Scott and Karen Banks, who operated Focus on Children, were ordered to pay $85,000 into the Samoan Adoptees Restitution Fund to help some 80 children including 66 placed with U.S. families maintain contact with their birth parents.
The Banks, who now live near Reno, Nev., say in court documents that their financial circumstances have changed since July 2009, when U.S. District Court Judge David Sam ordered them and other defendants to make the fund contributions. The couple are barred from engaging in adoption services, and Scott Banks now works in construction.
The proposed payment schedule would cut the Banks' current monthly obligation in half, to $650, for the next five months. It would then increase $50 a month until April 2012. The U.S. Attorney's Office has agreed to the proposal, which leaves their total obligation unchanged.
Jini L. Roby, who agreed to oversee the fund at no charge, said a "significant amount" has been paid so far into the fund, which is supposed to eventually reach $100,000.
"We are using it for mostly communication purposes between adoptive and birth parents and for holding get-togethers for the adopted children," said Roby, an associate professor of social work at Brigham Young University whose research interests include global adoption issues.
She said birth and adoptive families have exchanged letters, photos, packages, emails and phone calls.
"It is working out quite well, and many families are participating on both sides," she said in an email.
Patti Sawyer of Fond du Lac, Wis., adoptive mother of Jayden, 11, said Roby has found creative ways to help families. The trust, for example, pays a facilitator in Samoa to transcribe letters and emails, which are then delivered to families, Sawyer said. This summer, the trust will provide lodging for several families to attend a festival showcasing Samoan cultural traditions.
It also has paid for Samoan and English language books, dictionaries and even English lessons for birth parents, all aimed at helping the children, birth and adoptive parents better communicate, she said.
"I think it's going well even more so," said Sawyer. "I wouldn't have expected to get reimbursed for English lessons for my daughter's family. I think it is really cool."
Although the fund will eventually be depleted, "her family is learning English, and that continues forever," Sawyer said.
About the case
In February 2007, a federal grand jury issued a 135-count indictment against Focus on Children which was based in Wellsville, Utah its operators and several employees on charges of conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations.
Prosecutors alleged agency representatives told birth parents their children would be fostered by U.S. families, who would help them get an education, and then returned to them at age 18. Adoptive parents were told the children were orphans or abandoned and were forbidden from contacting birth parents.
In 2009, federal prosecutors allowed Scott and Karen Banks and three other defendants to plead guilty to a handful of misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of an alien; all were placed on five years of probation.