Monday, July 22, 2024

US national apprehended on Ambergris Caye as part of adoption scam investigation


A US national who is being investigated by the United States government was picked up while living on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. 53-year-old Mary Mooney, a resident of Belmont, North Carolina USA was apprehended inside her San Pedro Town apartment during a joint operation between US officials and local police on Tuesday February 11th. The arrest was part of a bigger investigation in which Mooney and three other people are being investigated for conspiracy to defraud the US Government as part of an adoption scam.


Local police, working along with US agencies, managed to detain Mooney during a pre-dawn operation (sometime around 4AM) and was immediately flown to the US Embassy in Belmopan City and eventually to the US. Mooney, former Executive Director of International Adoption Guides Inc. (IAG), an adoption services provider in the US, is under investigation in regards to an adoption scam involving Ethiopian children. The San Pedro Sun investigation reveals that IAG is a South Carolina organization that apparently identified children in Ethiopia for adoption then reportedly arranged for their adoption by US-based parents.

According to a release dated February 11th from the US Department of Justice, the investigation as well as what led to the arrest of four of the IAG functionaries was outlined. The other three people involved are IAG International Program Director and Coordinator, 53-year old James Harding, who was arrested in Georgia, US, while North Carolina resident 42-year-old Alisa Bivens of Gastonia, who oversaw the Ethiopian operations from the United States, is scheduled to make an appearance at a later date in US District Court in Charleston. Haile Mekonnen, an Ethiopian national that controled IAG’s operations in Ethiopia, was also charged in the indictment. Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney William N. Nettles of the District of South Carolina and Assistant Secretary Gregory B. Starr of the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security made the announcement.

“The defendants are accused of obtaining adoption decrees and U.S. visas by submitting fraudulent adoption contracts signed by orphanages that never cared for or housed the children, thus undermining the very laws that are designed to protect the children and families involved,” announced the Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As today’s indictments show, the Justice Department, alongside its partners both here and abroad, will respond vigorously to these criminal schemes and will act to protect the many families and children who rely on the integrity of the adoption process,” added Raman.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary Gregory B. Starr of the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security stated, “the Bureau of Diplomatic Security uses its global presence to vigorously investigate any fraud related to the acquisition of U.S. visas. The Department of State’s Bureaus of Consular Affairs and Diplomatic Security are firmly committed to working with the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and bring to justice people who victimize children and families by abusing inter-country adoption system and bribe officials to facilitate their actions.”
The indictment indicates that the defendants supposedly engaged in a five-year conspiracy violating laws relating to the adoption of Ethiopian children by using U.S. parents. The scheme included “paying orphanages to ‘sign off’ on contracts of adoption with the adopting parents as if the children had been raised by those orphanages — even though the children had never resided in those orphanages and had not been cared for or raised there,” indicated the release. According to the indictment, the orphanages could not properly offer these children up for adoption since in some instances, the children resided with a parent or relative.

“As part of the charged conspiracy, the defendants then allegedly submitted or caused to be submitted these fraudulent contracts of adoption to Ethiopian courts in order to secure adoption decrees, and submitted or caused to be submitted, the fraudulent contracts of adoption and the fraudulently procured adoption decrees to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia in order to obtain U.S. visas for the children to travel to the United States to be with their new families. The indictment also charges that the defendants’ scheme involved paying bribes to an Ethiopian government official and agreeing to create counterfeit U.S. Customs and Immigration Service forms that were to be submitted to the Ethiopian government,” outlined the release.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.The prosecution is being conducted by Assistant United States Attorney Jamie Schoen of the District of South Carolina and Trial Attorney John W. Borchert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

The four have been charged for “conspiring to defraud the United States” and upon conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of not greater than $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost in the scheme. Records obtained by the US Government indicate that Mooney was IAG’s executive director. Local authorities indicated that Mooney had integrated herself into the community and had been very visible around San Pedro Town.

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