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Arrests over Samoa adoption scam

Published: 6:43PM Tuesday March 06, 2007 Source: One News

The owners of an American adoption agency have been charged with running a baby-smuggling operation out of Samoa.

An investigation by ONE News Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver first highlighted the alleged scam which US officials have called "shocking and appalling".

Seven people involved with the Utah-based agency are accused of deceiving parents in Samoa into signing away their children.

US investigators allege that as well as being mistreated in a nanny or halfway house, Samoan birth parents were deceived into thinking they would get their children back when they were older.

US officials allege the agency targeted Samoan children for adoption by observing the market or other places where women gathered.

Local agent Dan Wakefield is one of those charged. He told ONE News it wasn't his fault if Samoan parents misunderstood.

Behind the tale of alleged fraud, selling children and money laundering are the families.The parents only intention was to give their children a good future that they could not afford to give themselves.

Avea Sioka was struggling to bring up six children, so she placed her youngest daughter Heta and three of her siblings with the agency Focus on Children.

Along with other children destined for America, Heta stayed at the nanny house but the Siokas removed their children after allegations they had been mistreated.

"When we got Heta back she was vomiting and she had diarrhoea and she was very skinny and weak and almost couldn't walk," says Avea.

After a week when Heta did not get any better she was taken to hospital, where she died.

Other families also withdrew their children from the nanny house after finding them ill and hungry.

The Samoan families were not the only ones affected. Investigators say the American parents thought they were adopting orphans. It is alleged they paid $US13,000 for one child - $20,000 for two.

Officials believe many American adoptive parents were told to pick up their children in New Zealand. That was done so there was no risk of coming face to face with the birth parents.

They were given to understand that events such as an outbreak of measles in Samoa or a hurricane had made travel impossible.