When the adoption business was booming, Lauryn Galindo’s fleet of drivers got no rest.
A team of about a dozen, they escorted hopeful adoptive parents who had come to rescue a baby from Cambodia’s grime and destitution and raise a child in the US.
That was before the questions arose about orphanages and the so-called facilitators that pipelined the babies overseas, and before the US suspended adoptions from Cambodia in December 2001.
“During that time the adoptions were going well,” remembers Soeung Man, who worked with Galindo in the late 1990s.
Now Galindo is facing possible prosecution, indicted on charges in the US that she took—and even bought—children from their families and offered them to parents in the US as orphans.
And many of her former drivers, including Soeung Man, are in the orphan business themselves, running orphanages across the country.
When contacted last week, some defended Galindo. Others took the opportunity to distance themselves.
“We don’t work with her,” said Soeung Man, who now works at the Children’s Relief Center in Kandal province.
Galindo, a native of the US state of Hawaii and a former hula dancer, was once a leading fund-raiser in Phnom Penh. She called her work “humanitarian” and was a generous contributor to several charities, including The Cambodia Daily’s mosquito net campaign.
Many stories that surface about Galindo today, however, are in the vein of Judith Mosley’s tale.
Mosley maintains that the
7-year-old daughter she adopted through Galindo in 1999 was bought from a family in Siem Reap.
She says the girl never lived in the orphanage there, though her adoption papers listed her a resident of three years.
And Mosley says she has personally met the girl’s 27-year-old sister, who cared for her, and that their mother had died only months before the adoption.
“Had I not traveled to Siem Reap, nobody would have been any of the wiser,” Mosley wrote by e-mail from the US state of Washington.
“It is the lies, deceit, corruption and greed of the Western and Cambodian facilitators” that resulted in the US suspension, she wrote.
Mosley says she has been contacted by the US Department of Homeland Security to testify against Galindo. This could not be verified Sunday.
Such allegations led Galindo’s sister and business partner, Lynn Devin, to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud this month in a Washington state court. According to court documents, their Seattle International Adoptions firm charged an average of $10,500 to arrange an adoption from Cambodia, though there are no formal adoption processing fees here.
The documents also allege that Galindo directed an adoptive parent to pay $100 to a child’s biological mother. Galindo had not been arrested late last week and is in Hawaii. She has declined comment through a media relations firm.
A former assistant to Galindo says the US government is unfairly targeting her. It was once common practice for facilitators to ask that adoptive parents pay a “nanny” who had cared for the child, and Galindo could not know if a child was truly an orphan, said Ouch Syphalla Pole, now a director of The Palm Tree Foundation, an organization that works with orphans.
“Every facilitator did the same thing, so why do they pick her?” he said. “Lauryn doesn’t know if the child has a mother or a father. It’s according to the papers of the orphanage director.”
“From the Cambodian side, she respected the law. From the US side, I don’t know,” he said.
That uncertainty about adoption law and its enforcement has sustained the US suspension. The US says it wants transparency to ensure that adopted children are indeed orphans.
For now, adoptions to the US are scarce, arranged through government-to-government negotiations. At the Roteang Orphanage in Kandal, only eight of its 50 to 60 orphans have been adopted in the US this year.
Chan Kimleng, a broad-shouldered man who goes by the name of “Elephant,” is another former driver for Galindo, now in the orphanage business. He is the deputy director at Roteang, established in late 2000.
He would not speak about his work with Galindo, but he said involving facilitators only clouds the process.
“I think Cambodia and the US can [re-establish adoptions], but through the governments,” he said, “with no facilitators.”