SEATTLE – A Hawaii woman has been sentenced to a year and a half in prison for her role in helping Americans adopt Cambodian children – even if they weren’t orphans.
Lauryn Galindo, 53, also was ordered Friday to perform 300 hours of community service, forfeit her $1.4 million home and pay more than $60,000 in restitution, with the money going to seven sets of parents who adopted through her, her spokesman said.
She pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and launder money. The charges indicated she had represented some children as orphans to immigration officials when she knew otherwise.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly told Galindo her “conduct regarding children who were taken from their families far outweighs all the other good work you did for other children.”
Galindo, of Hanalei, Kauai, helped find children for people to adopt through her sister’s company, Seattle International Adoptions, and was paid by the parents for her work.
Her sister, Lynn Devin, previously pleaded guilty to related charges and will be sentenced next month. Galindo admitted she organized a scheme in which some Cambodian children were taken from their families and represented on immigration forms as orphans from 1997-2001.
In a statement, Galindo said she never trafficked in children. Her supporters have argued that she lobbied the Cambodian government to provide orphans with greater protections, and that she worked to find American homes for many disabled Cambodian children – although such children are harder to place.
“My intention was to save children from desperate circumstances. I feel that I was always acting with good intent and the highest integrity under the most difficult conditions,” Galindo said. “I made errors on visa forms and in withdrawing money in violation of federal guidelines, which is the substance of my guilty plea. I have never trafficked in children – ever!”
The case stemmed from a two-year investigation by the State Department and immigration officials.
“This investigation focused on a scheme that treated hundreds of children as nothing more than commodities,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent-in-charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle. The criminal behavior “exploited not only our nation’s immigration system, but defrauded hundreds of well-meaning American parents who wanted nothing more than to provide orphans with a loving home.”
Actress Angelina Jolie is one parent who used Seattle International Adoptions. But officials said there was nothing suspect about the adoption of her son, Maddox.
The government said it plans to take no action that would jeopardize the U.S. residency status of Cambodian children who were adopted through SIA.
At the sentencing hearing Friday, Galindo’s lawyer argued for leniency, noting that Galindo had done much charitable work and suffered mental problems from childhood.
Her spokesman, Stephen Jaffe, said that of the more than 750 parents who adopted Cambodian children with Galindo’s help, only 13 filed complaints – and not all of them sought restitution.
In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, a human rights consultant said he thought Galindo deserved a longer sentence, but was happy she will be punished.
Jason Barber, a consultant with Licadho, which has monitored adoption abuses in Cambodia for about seven years, said, “We hope that her sentence is a deterrent to other adoption facilitators and adoption agents who engage in unlawful practices.”
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