A pregnant Marshallese women lured to the U.S. for illicit adoptions was ripped off for thousands of dollars and another was forced to live in overcrowded conditions without a bed, according to a federal criminal complaint against an alleged fixer.

Maki Takehisa, 39, of Springdale, Arkansas, was charged last week with arranging for pregnant women to fly from the Marshall Islands to place their children with American couples in violation of federal law and a treaty between the two nations.

Maki Takehisa was charged last week with bringing pregnant Marshallese women to the U.S. for adoptions 

Federal prosecutors charged Takehisa after getting a tip that she was helping unnamed “others” to induce women to travel to the U.S. and consent to illegal adoptions.

Takehisa was identified in a Civil Beat investigation in November as a fixer in illicit Marshallese adoptions who worked with Arizona attorney Paul Petersen, one of a handful of lawyers who specialize in black market Marshallese adoptions.

Petersen was not named in the criminal complaint filed in Arkansas.

The complaint describes several cases in which Takehisa allegedly abetted the travel of young women between the Marshall Islands and the U.S. between April, 2014 and March, 2015. The complaint says FBI agents began investigating Takehisa in April, 2017, with the help of U.S. State Department special agents.

One, identified only as RMJ, said Takehisa offered to pay her $10,000 to place her child for adoption, but that she got only $6,000, which Takehisa handed her in cash. RMJ believed Takehisa had also paid for her plane tickets to the U.S. and back home to the Marshall Islands. RMJ gave birth to a baby boy at Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Johnson, Ark. on April 21, 2014.

Another woman, identified as DJ, also said Takehisa offered her $10,000 and covered her airfare. In Arkansas, she lived in a house owned by Takehisa’s relatives with about ten other people, and did not have her own room or bed. Takehisa gave her $4,000 in cash the day her baby was born on May 22, 2015, according to the complaint. The adoption was completed six days later and DJ returned to the Marshall Islands.

In an investigation published in November, Civil Beat identified Takehisa as a fixer for Arizona attorney Petersen, one of a handful of U.S. lawyers who set up illicit Marshallese adoptions. Sources said that Takehisa’s relationship with Petersen ended recently.

Kookie Gideon says she flew to the U.S. for an adoption arranged by Maki Takehisa, who last week was charged for abetting similar adoptions Sarah Holm/Civil Beat

Kookie Gideon told Civil Beat that when she got pregnant in high school in the Marshall Islands, Takehisa’s relative approached her about placing her baby in the U.S. Gideon was reluctant, but changed her mind when Takehisa’s relative told her the baby would return to her at the age of 18.

Takehisa gave her a plane ticket to the U.S., Gideon said, and she and two other young women flew with Takehisa’s husband. Takehisa picked them up at the airport in Arkansas. She lived with Takehisa’s friend, staying inside because she was in pain most of the time.

A few weeks after giving birth in  a C-section on March 23, 2015, Gideon said she handed her newborn child to an American couple in a secluded, rural field — without ever speaking to a lawyer, a judge or a social worker. She said Takehisa did not explain or translate the forms she signed. Gideon, who now lives in Ohio, said she stayed in touch for awhile with the couple who adopted her child, but they have since cut off contact.

Petersen’s spokesman declined to answer questions about Gideon last year, saying he would not address “uncorroborated” accounts of birth mothers who had worked with Petersen. Petersen, who is also the elected assessor in Maricopa County, Ariz., did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.

The Compact of Free Association, a 1983 agreement between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands, allows Marshallese citizens to travel freely to the U.S. unless they’re coming for an adoption.

All international adoptions are supposed to take place through a central authority in the Marshallese capital of Majuro, created two decades ago to stop the exploitation of pregnant women who in many cases did not understand that they were giving up their children for good.

In August, a Texas lawyer who also arranged for Marshallese women to travel to the U.S. was ordered to stop all international adoptions. The  Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity launched its investigation after Civil Beat documented Jody Hall’s activities in June.

Hall in recent years has worked with well-known fixer Justin Aine. In March, Aine was charged in the Marshall Islands with human trafficking, alleged to have arranged  Marshallese adoptions in the U.S.

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