Baby Love Child banner

Uganda, just another snapshot of the Caveat Emptor world of adoption scams

“Americans for African Adoptions”, widely credited as the first agency to facilitate adoptions from Ethiopia, sits squarely at the center of a latest round of  lawsuits in relation to yet another Ugandan adoption scandal.

Uganda has an ongoing history of adoption corruption, even as the number of kids being imported to the US continues to rise, see Uganda orphans on sale abroad for example. Also see the U.S. State Department notice on Uganda.

Whether the agency was an active participant in the scam or merely cluelessly naive and negligent in light of falsified photos, forged documents, and the collection of large sums of money being handed over remains to be seen.

Earlier this month we were treated to yet another round of articles pertaining to this latest mess.

Take SD couple hope courts will help in adoption scam for example. As usual, the article focuses upon the would-be-adoptive couples and approaches these crimes from a consumer protection model.

Cori and Chris Schmaus said they contracted with an Indianapolis company, Americans For African Adoptions, in early 2008 to adopt two Ugandan children whose mother supposedly gave them up after giving birth to them as part of quintuplets.

The Schmauses received photos, birth records and letters about the children, named Sowali and Fatina Bangi. Having paid $11,500 in initial fees, the couple began sending the agency $400 a month for the children’s care.

Each month, they were assured the adoption paperwork was near completion. It wasn’t. The Schmauses said there never was any legitimate paperwork.

Last October, they found out from a New Mexico couple trying to adopt the other two surviving quints that the Bangi children had lived with their mother since birth. The New Mexico couple flew to Kampala, Uganda, met the mother and learned that she never had agreed to give up her children.

Since then, the Schmauses learned that a Ugandan named Joseph Kagimu reportedly staged photos, forged documents and collected money for dozens of children such as the Bangis, then used the information to collect money from unsuspecting Western parents through the Indianapolis agency.

As of last October, the Schmauses had paid $16,800 to Americans for African Adoptions. Recently, they sued the agency in Minnehaha County, alleging that its director, Cheryl Carter-Shotts, was negligent because she failed to catch on to the scheme. A handful of others, including the New Mexico couple and another in Michigan, have filed or plan to file similar lawsuits as well.

Carter-Shotts claims Kagimu scammed her as well as the families.

You’d think the would-be-adopters might have caught on themselves at the demand for $400 a month for the care of two children in Uganda (a fortune by local standards) but, no they forked over the funds, assuming this was just the cost of doing adoption business in Uganda, and still thinking they were getting a good deal compared to what they might have been asked to pay in other countries.

Would-be-adopters continue to bargain hunt and African children are often priced lower than their  highly prized white peers. The Schmauses felt they were still getting two for the price of less than one kid from another country.

The Schmauses always had wanted to adopt. Cori Schmaus’ family had adopted kids, and Chris Schmaus had worked with foster children at McCrossan Boys Ranch.

After hearing about Africa from missionaries at their Sioux Falls church, they decided to try for an international adoption. But international adoptions can be expensive. The average cost to adopt one child from most agencies is more than $20,000, Cori Schmaus said.

Still, when she came across Americans for African Adoptions and spoke with Carter-Shotts about the smaller upfront costs, she was sold. Carter-Shotts has a strong reputation. Her agency, founded in 1986, is widely credited as the first to facilitate adoptions from Ethiopia.

According to an Indiana court records search, the agency never has been successfully sued.

When the New Mexican would-be-adoptive couple met the mother of the children and learned she had never consented to relinquishing her children at all,  the full reality of the scam came to light.

These couples were all paying money to Americans for African Adoptions for kids that were never available for adoption in the first place.

As so often appears in articles like these, the would-be-adopters bemoan having paid out the cash, but not gotten the ordered products, the kids. The utilize all the usual framing of how these were to their minds “their” kids, and how they are now heartbroken over how “their kids” never came “home” to them.

“The most upsetting part for me was that I was emotionally attached to these children,” Chris Schmaus said. “These were our children. It was like losing a child when we found out what was going on over there.”

I’ve written before at length about how disingenuous these attempts to characterize children  marketed to prospective adoptive couples as “their children” are to their core.

Wanna-be-adopters are all too often simply incapable of getting their heads around the fact that other peoples’ kids are NOT THEIRS.

That they have  no LEGAL basis upon which to even think of someone else’s kids as their own at this stage in the game.

Just because one is sending $400 a month off into the unknown, that does not entitle anyone to any given child, AND that money may or may not be spent on anything they would even remotely approve of, let alone caring for a specific individual child.

Further, reading many agencies contracts makes it clear enough, they do not guarantee a child (any child) and usually funds given are explicitly explained to be non-refundable.

Yet each and every year, couples continue to sign those contracts, continue to get out their checkbooks, month after month for years on end, and then find themselves in courtrooms, angry and feeling betrayed wanting “their” money back. These couples continue to feel the circumstances they find themselves in are somehow incredibly exceptional rather than merely the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that has played out across decades all over the world.

Far from being “special” in being defrauded of thousands of dollars, they are simply added to the pile, another snapshot, another statistic.

The world of cash and adoption is an unregulated black hole.

The bottom line remains as always, “caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware”.

Would-be-adopters feel all kinds of emotional investment, that is precisely what scammers of all stripes count on.

They back that emotional investment up with financial investments, sometimes taking out second mortgages or loans to raise the funds. Some (stupidly) even put their adoptions on credit cards with double digit interest rates.

The industry itself certainly knows a thing or two about the desperation and “Give-me-children,-or-else-I-die” frenzy adoptive couples work themselves up into as well as how the ongoing threat of lawsuits hangs in their air over their industry.

I’ve sat in the National Council for Adoption’s (an industry lobby’s) annual conference listening to what it sounds like from the agency end. The constant fear of lawsuits is as close as the conference exhibits or the program book with marketing materials for agency insurance  on through to the speakers at the podiums.

Everyone knows once you start paying into the notion of a specific child, the emotional commitment goes off the charts.

Those who would chose to take advantage of that emotional and financial commitment enter into a perfect symbiosis with desperate couples, pushing their buttons and prying the money out of them.

As I wrote earlier in my post Orson Mozes and the perfect symbiosis, speaking to Mozes and the couples he scammed,

Sadly, a perfect symbiosis has formed between the desperate infertile and those who view their desperation as an opportunity to expand their personal fortunes.

As the various would-be-adoptive couples compared notes with one another and made trips to Uganda the scam became more and more apparent.

More than merely wanting  justice, the couples want refunds (perhaps so they can try another stab at adopting with yet another agency.) But what they, like may who pay into these scams fail to understand is that the money is apparently  long gone.

The Guests and Schmauses said they haven’t been repaid the fees they sent to the agency. Carter-Shotts insisted she has paid back the Guests in part but can’t refund all the money and that some initial fees were understood to be non-refundable. Besides, she said, the fraud destroyed her business.

“Joseph took all the money. We don’t have any income coming in,” she said.


Guest doubts he’ll see a refund, either, suspecting Carter-Shotts used the money to pay for day-to-day operations.

None of which is any surprise to those of us who have seen it all hundreds of times over.

The problem remains, when it comes to adoption, (with apologies to P.T. Barnum) there’s a wanna-be-adopter sucker born every minute and no matter how “reputable” the agency is portrayed as, there really are no guarantees nor protections.

Sad, yet simple facts more and more would-be-adopters are learning only long after the cash is long gone, years later, in courtrooms.

Leave a Reply