Former International Program Director of Adoption Agency Pleads Guilty to Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Scheme
The former International Program Director of International Adoption Guides Inc. (IAG), an adoption agency, pleaded guilty today to conspiring with others to defraud the United States by submitting fraudulent documents to the State Department for adoptions from Ethiopia and paying bribes to foreign officials.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles of the District of South Carolina made the announcement.
James Harding, 55, of Atlanta, Georgia, admitted as part of his guilty plea that, between 2008 and 2009, he and his co-conspirators submitted fraudulent documents to the State Department to facilitate adoptions of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents. Harding admitted that, in support of U.S. visa applications for the Ethiopian children, he and others submitted false documentation, including contracts of adoption signed by orphanages that could not properly give the children up for adoption because, for example, the child in question was never cared for or never resided at the orphanage.
In entering his guilty plea, Harding also admitted that he and others paid bribes to two Ethiopian officials so that those officials would help with the fraudulent adoptions. Specifically, Harding admitted that an audiologist and teacher at a government school was given money and other valuables in exchange for non-public medical information and social history information for potential adoptees. Additionally, Harding and his co-conspirators provided cash and all-expense paid travel to the head of a regional ministry for women’s and children’s affairs in exchange for his approval of IAG’s applications for intercountry adoptions and ignoring IAG’s failure to maintain a properly licensed adoption facility.
Harding pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Sol Blatt Jr. of the District of South Carolina, and a sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The department appreciates the assistance of the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John W. Borchert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Lea Schoen of the District of South Carolina.