Here is the story itself:
Former operators and employees of a Wellsville agency accused of duping Samoan parents into placing their children for adoption are expected to enter guilty pleas in the case.
In a hearing Tuesday afternoon before U.S. District Judge David Sam in Salt Lake City, a prosecutor and defense attorneys for the Focus on Children defendants say they are working out the final details on plea deals for five of seven defendants.
The judge scheduled hearings for Jan. 6, when plea negotiations are expected to be complete. Four defendants -- Karen Banks, Scott Banks, Coleen Bartlett and Karalee Thornock -- are slated to enter guilty pleas at a morning hearing. The fifth defendant, Dan Wakefield, will appear at an afternoon hearing.
The U.S. government has been unable to extradite the other two defendants, Samoan citizens Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, and they are not part of these negotiations.
The lawyers involved in the case declined to give details of the plea agreements.
A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City issued a 135-count indictment in February 2007 charging the defendants with conspiracy, fraud and immigration violations. The charges -- which target 37 of 81 Samoan adoptions by Focus on Children between 2002 and mid-2005 -- stemmed from a federal investigation triggered by suspicious immigration officials.
The indictment claims the Focus on Children workers falsely told Samoan parents that children they placed for adoption would return to them. In the United States, prospective adoptive parents allegedly were told that the youngsters were orphans or abandoned by families who could not care for them, claims that were false.
U.S. immigration laws require adopted children to be orphans, defined as abandoned by both parents or left with one parent who cannot provide care.
However, prosecutors say some parents took children to a Focus on Children "nanny house," but they often visited and took the youngsters home for extended stays. They say other children were cared for at home even after adoption paperwork was done.
Recruiters exploited the faith of the Samoan parents -- many of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- and their dreams for a better life for their children, according to prosecutors.
These recruiters allegedly sold adoption as a "program" that would send youngsters to live with an American Mormon family and get a good education before returning home at 18. The Samoan parents claim they also were promised money, regular letters and photos from the U.S. families.
An LDS church spokesman has said the church has never had any affiliation with the Focus on Children adoption program.
The defendants all pleaded not guilty at their arraignments and have been free pending resolution of the case. Lawyers for the Bankses, who operated Focus on Children, said four of Samoa's most prestigious attorneys had given sworn affidavits describing how Samoan birth parents were repeatedly told they were giving up legal rights to their children and should not expect to see them again.
Focus on Children ceased operations in Utah in the summer of 2007.
Here is another story of an attorney out of Texas. She got popped a while back falsifying documents in adoption. The illegalities of the actions of these folks are catching up with them. Its great that it is.
Testimony begins in trial of lawyer charged with forging court documents
Although the proposed adoption was uncontested, the Wards wanted an experienced family law attorney to ensure the legality of the twofold process — the termination of the biological parents’ rights and the baby’s adoption.
They never dreamed that the 2006 adoption handled by their Fort Worth attorney, Kimberly Ashley-Stevens, would be overturned because of legal errors — including forged court documents in the case.
Testimony began Thursday in the felony trial of Ashley-Stevens, who is charged with fabricating physical evidence, tampering with government records and forgery in connection with documents filed in the Ward adoption initially granted by 324th District Judge Jerome Hennigan in August 2006.
Ashley-Stevens faces up to 10 years in prison if a Tarrant County jury convicts her of the third-degree-felony fabricating charge. She faces up to two years in prison if the eight men and four women on the jury convict her of the other two charges, which are state jail felonies.
Testimony resumes at 8:45 a.m. today in State District Judge Elizabeth Berry’s Criminal District Court No. 3. The trial is expected to last into next week.
Ashley-Stevens, 40 of Crowley, was disbarred in September based on charges that she forged the signature of former 360th District Judge Frank Sullivan in a 2006 annulment decree.
Her actions in the Ward adoption and another parental termination-adoption case came to light after her September 2007 indictment in the annulment case. The Ward adoption was overturned but granted again after other attorneys voluntarily refiled the papers. The other couple’s adoption was not overturned because the child had turned 18 by the time the problem was discovered.
The Ward adoption appeared to be fraught with problems from the time the Wards hired Ashley-Stevens in March 2006, according to testimony from Kristy Ward and Lindsay DeVos, an attorney appointed to represent the biological father’s interests.
Ward testified that she followed Ashley-Stevens’ instructions to obtain notarized affidavits from the biological parents shortly after the baby’s birth on Feb. 24. She said she mailed those documents, stating that the parents voluntarily relinquished their rights to the child, to her attorney within two days.
On July 21, however, Ashley-Stevens filed an affidavit, purportedly signed by Ward on June 27, stating that Ward had tried unsuccessfully to locate the biological parents. The affidavit also stated that Ward was afraid that the baby had an unknown father who could not be located.
Ward testified that she did not sign the affidavit and did not authorize anyone else to sign it for her. In fact, she said, she did not even know that the affidavit had been filed until a state investigator told her this year that the adoption was being overturned because of the forged affidavit.
Defense attorney Abe Factor contended that the Ward adoption was nullified, not because of the forged affidavit, but because there was no document in the court file to show that the biological father had been notified through a newspaper notice about the termination proceedings.
DeVos testified that Ashley-Stevens led her to believe that the father had been notified. She said that she filed her response to the termination on Aug. 24, eight days after Ashley-Stevens sent her her appointment notice.
More than 18 months later, while cleaning out old files, DeVos said she learned that Judge Hennigan had signed the termination order on Aug. 23, the day before she filed her response.
That’s when DeVos discovered that someone had forged her signature on the termination order.
The adoption, which was to have been granted Aug. 23, was delayed because social worker Alicia Alexander Byrd had not filed the home study report, Ward said.
Who was responsible?
Factor told jurors that Ashley-Stevens did not know that the affidavit was forged. He said that Ashley-Stevens’ assistant, Tina Harris, assured her that the case, including the affidavit, was ready to go.
"Somebody took a shortcut," Factor said. "As the employer, Kim is responsible, but she’s not criminally responsible."
Shannon said Ashley-Stevens is criminally responsible because she knew the documents were forged when she presented them to the court.
Byrd, who filed the false home study report, has been charged with fabricating physical evidence and tampering with a governmental record in her Aug. 28, 2006 report in the Ward case. Her next court appearance is Jan. 8.
Attorney Lisa Hoobler, who is assisting Factor in Ashley-Stevens’ defense, pointed out that Ward took Byrd to her father’s Grand Prairie home instead of her own Palo Pinto home, where the home study should have been conducted. She suggested that Ward attempted to deceive the court, which had jurisdiction only over Tarrant County cases.
But Ward said Ashley-Stevens told her to take Byrd to her father’s home. She said she didn’t learn until the adoption was overturned this year that her attorney’s advice was erroneous.