A Texas woman who was a program manager at an Ohio-based international adoption agency pleaded guilty today in the Northern District of Ohio to schemes to procure adoptions of Ugandan and Polish children by bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. authorities.
According to court documents, Debra Parris, 69, of Lake Dallas, engaged in a scheme with others to bribe Ugandan officials to procure adoptions of Ugandan children by families in the United States. These bribes included payments to (a) probation officers intended to ensure favorable probation reports recommending that a particular child be placed into an orphanage; (b) court registrars to influence the assignment of particular cases to “adoption-friendly” judges; and (c) High Court judges to issue favorable guardianship orders for the adoption agency’s clients. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that she continued to direct the adoption agency’s clients to work with her alleged co-conspirator Dorah Mirembe, after knowing that Mirembe caused clients of the adoption agency to provide false information to the U.S. State Department for the purpose of misleading it in its adjudication of visa applications.
According to court documents, in a second scheme, after alleged co-conspirator Margaret Cole, the adoption agency’s Executive Director, learned that clients of the adoption agency determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Parris and her co-conspirator took steps to transfer the Polish child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption. In her plea agreement, Parris also admitted that after the child was injured and hospitalized, Parris agreed with her co-conspirator to conceal their improper conduct from the U.S. State Department in an attempt to continue profiting from these adoptions.
Parris pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and commit visa fraud in connection with the Uganda scheme, and conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with the Poland scheme. She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2022. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Trial against Cole is scheduled to commence on Feb. 7, 2022. Mirembe remains at large.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan for the Northern District of Ohio; and Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.
If you believe you are a victim of this offense, please visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/victim-witness-program or call (888) 549-3945.
The FBI’s Cleveland Field Office is investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Jason Manning and Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice of the Northern District of Ohio are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs assisted in the investigation.
The Fraud Section has lead responsibility for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and Cole and Mirembe are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.