Adoption agent Lauryn Galindo, who brokered hundreds of overseas adoptions from Cambodia, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a US federal court to charges of visa fraud, money laundering and currency structuring, The Associated Press reported.
Galindo, 52, of the US state of Hawaii, for years was hailed as a kind-hearted champion of Cambodian orphans but has most recently become the face of a corrupted adoption system that purchased babies from poor mothers for as little as $100.
A renowned adoption “facilitator” who moved in Phnom Penh’s highest government and social circles, Galindo came under scrutiny as part of a US investigation into the overseas adoption business code-named “Operation Broken Hearts.”
She was indicted last year on accusations that she falsified visa documents to misrepresent children as orphans, so they would be eligible for adoption.
Court documents also alleged Galindo told adoptive parents to pay $100 to a mother giving up her child and charged adoptive parents about $10,000 for processing the adoption. Cambodia has no formal adoption fees.
Her sister Lynn Devin, 50, ran an adoption agency in the US and was also named in that indictment. She pleaded guilty in December to falsifying visa documents.
Galindo could face 20 years imprisonment, but her lawyers told reporters her sentence will be much less. She is scheduled for sentencing Sept 24, the Associated Press reported.
She has requested court permission to return to Cambodia and Thailand for a seven- to 10-day humanitarian mission before that date. Her lawyer, Jay Stansell, said Galindo wanted to visit “for the sole purpose of humanitarian work,” the AP reported. The court is expected to make a decision on that point today.
Though the US investigation appeared to implicate many of Galindo’s Cambodian staff in corrupt adoption practices, including baby-buying, the Interior Ministry is not conducting any further investigation, a spokesman said.
Many of Galindo’s Cambodian associates have opened or currently manage orphanages, but Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Galindo’s transgressions—including the 18 adoptions between 1997 and 2001 examined in the US court case—were isolated incidents.
“Nearly 100 percent of adopted Cambodian children overseas are legally provided by the government,” he said. “All the papers are according to Cambodian law.”
“It seems to be that there are no fake documents,” he said.
In past interviews Galindo, a blue-eyed semiprofessional hula dancer who keeps a beach house in Hawaii, was candid about her friendships with senior government leaders such as Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Senate President Chea Sim.
On Thursday, Chea Sim adviser Kunthea Borey stood by Galindo, saying she had only good intentions.
“She has a good heart. She helped the Cambodian children,” she said, adding that the government will likely allow Galindo to return here.
Neither Galindo nor Devin are in custody. Galindo refused comment following Wednesday’s hearing, the AP reported.
The money-laundering charge against her stems from more than $153,000 in wire transfers to Cambodian accounts from adoptive parents in the US. The currency structuring charge refers to the transfer of money in small increments in order to avoid US banking regulations.
The use of “facilitators” such as Galindo has been a point of concern for several Western countries that have suspended adoptions from Cambodia. Britain is the newest to that list, announcing Tuesday that it would not allow adoptions from this country.
Actress Angelina Jolie of “Tomb Raider” fame adopted a Cambodian child through Galindo in 2002. There is no evidence to indicate that the adoption was fraudulent, but amid Galindo’s troubles Jolie reportedly hired a private investigator to determine the background of her adopted son, Maddox, 3.