Cleveland, Ohio - Three women were charged in a 13-count indictment filed on August 14 in the Northern District of Ohio for their alleged roles in schemes to corruptly and fraudulently procure adoptions of Ugandan and Polish children through bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. adoptive parents, U.S. authorities, and a Polish regulatory authority.
Margaret Cole, 73, of Strongsville, Ohio, Debra Parris, 68, of Lake Dallas, Texas, and Dorah Mirembe, 41, of Kampala, Uganda, were charged in the indictment. In relation to the Uganda scheme, Parris and Mirembe were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, three substantive FCPA counts and three substantive counts of money laundering. Parris was also charged with one count of mail fraud. In relation to the Poland scheme, Parris and Cole were each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Cole was further charged with one count of making a false statement to a U.S. accrediting entity and one count of making a false statement to a Polish authority.
“The defendants allegedly resorted to bribery and fraud to engage in an international criminal adoption scheme that took children from their home countries in Uganda and Poland without properly determining whether they were actually orphaned. The defendants sought to profit from their alleged criminal activity at the expense of families and vulnerable children,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These charges clearly show that the Department of Justice is committed to protecting children worldwide, including those involved in the international adoption process.”
“These defendants are accused of orchestrating an alleged scheme that bribed Ugandan officials, defrauded the United States and manipulated parents inside and outside of the country,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio. “As a result of this alleged conduct, prospective parents were deceived, hundreds of thousands of dollars were misused and innocent children were displaced from their homes.”
“These three defendants preyed on the emotions of parents, those wanting the best for their child, and those wishing to give what they thought was an orphaned child a family to love,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI’s Cleveland Field Office. “These defendants allegedly lied to both sides of the adoption process, and bribed Ugandan officials who were responsible for the welfare of children. Parents, prospective parents and children were emotionally vested and were heartbroken when they learned of the selfishness and greed in which these three engaged. The FBI will never cease in its efforts to protect the innocent and unwitting from those who prey on that trust and confidence and we will vigorously pursue and hold those responsible accountable.”
With respect to the Uganda scheme, the indictment alleges that Parris and Mirembe, together with others, engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to Ugandan officials to corruptly procure the adoption of Ugandan children by families in the United States, including the adoption of children who were not properly determined to be orphaned and who had to be ultimately returned to their birth parents.
Specifically, Parris, Mirembe, and their co-conspirators allegedly (1) paid bribes to social welfare officers in exchange for them issuing welfare reports recommending that certain children be placed into orphanages without first ensuring that the children were actually orphaned or that putting them up for adoption was in the children’s best interest; (2) paid bribes to Ugandan magistrate judges to obtain court orders placing those children in an orphanage that was willing to accept the children without inquiring into whether they were actually orphans; (3) paid bribes to court registrars to cause the court registrars to assign the cases of these children to two corrupt “adoption-friendly” judges; and (4) paid bribes to the corrupt Ugandan judges to obtain orders to permit their clients to bring the children to the United States for adoption.
Parris, Mirembe, and others also allegedly lied to, and concealed material information from, adoptive parents, including lying about the bribe payments and whether the children were properly determined to be eligible for adoption, and concealing other material information about the children’s history. The indictment also alleges that Parris, Mirembe, and others agreed to cause false documents to be submitted to the U.S. Department of State to hide the corrupt and fraudulent scheme and to mislead it in its adjudication of visa applications for the Ugandan children being considered for adoption. The co-conspirators and the entities they worked for received more than $900,000 in connection with these adoptions.
With respect to the Poland scheme, the indictment alleges that after clients of their adoption agency determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Cole and Parris took steps to transfer the child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption and one of whom had a criminal arrest record. After the child was physically abused, Cole and Parris took steps to conceal their improper conduct from the entity responsible for accrediting U.S. intercountry adoption agencies—and from the Polish authority responsible for intercountry adoptions—in an attempt to continue profiting from these adoptions.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
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.