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Adoption: American woman pleads guilty to bribing Ugandan judges

Robin Longoria, 58, of Mansfield, Texas, America last week pleaded guilty to facilitating illegal adoptions of Ugandan children through bribing Ugandan High court judges. 

On August 29, Longoria pled guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), to commit wire fraud, and to commit visa fraud. According to court documents released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio, Longoria worked as an employee of an unnamed international adoption agency in Strongsville, Ohio.

The "adoption agency" facilitated intercountry adoptions from Uganda and elsewhere for prospective adoptive parents in the United States.

Court heard that from 2013 to 2016, Longoria worked with an unnamed Ugandan attorney to pay bribes to Ugandan government officials in order to get the officials to use their positions to assist in facilitating adoptions of Ugandan children for American clients.

Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is Uganda’s central adoption authority and oversees the probation and social welfare officers assigned to magistrate's courts. 

Only children who are declared legally orphaned or abandoned by a judge at the end of the referral process are available for adoption. However, Longoria admitted to paying bribes to Ugandan probation officers to influence them to issue favourable probation reports - recommending that a particular child be placed into an orphanage.

Further, she also admitted to payments to court registrars to influence them to assign particular cases to certain justices of the High court who were deemed to be "adoption-friendly." She also admitted to bribing Ugandan High court judges themselves to influence them to issue favourable guardianship orders to the adoption agency's clients.

The bribery scheme saw more than 30 Ugandan children adopted by American citizens for which the adoption charged more than $800,000 (about Shs 3 billion) in fees to the clients. The paid bribes were concealed from the adopting parents. 

“The defendant compromised protections for vulnerable Ugandan children and undermined the United States’ visa screening process,” said assistant attorney general Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  

“This defendant has admitted to playing a part in a conspiracy in which judges and other court officials in Africa were paid bribes to corrupt the adoption process,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio.  “We are committed to pursuing justice for the adoptive parents and for all parties involved.”

“While adoptive families were financially and emotionally invested in the welfare of their future child, misrepresentations were made by Ms. Longoria and others to disguise bribe payments made to court officials in Uganda,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI’s Cleveland Field Office.  “We are pleased Ms. Longoria has accepted responsibility for her role in facilitating an international adoption scam.”

Further, Longoria admitted that she and her co-conspirators agreed to, and did, create false documents for submission to the U.S. State Department to mislead it in its adjudication of visa applications for the Ugandan children being considered for adoption.

Longoria is scheduled to be sentenced on January 8, 2020 before U.S. District judge Christopher A. Boyko. 

Ministry of Gender officials were not readily available for comment. 

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd