The news last week that Hawaii’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel is looking into possible misconduct by a Honolulu attorney who has profited from the sleazy Marshallese adoption business is a welcome development.

Civil Beat’s recent reporting on the lawyer, Laurie Loomis, strongly suggests that her work is very similar to that of Paul Petersen, an Arizona attorney. Last month Petersen — whose day job, now suspended, was the elected assessor of Maricopa County — was indicted in a multi-state investigation involving authorities in his home state, Arkansas and Utah.

The allegation that has led to Petersen facing hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in fines is that he arranged for black market adoptions involving pregnant women traveling from the Marshall Islands to the United States.

Loomis, whose practices are similar to Petersen’s, needs to receive the same level of state and federal legal scrutiny as Petersen. Hawaii’s attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office should follow the lead of the three mainland states and look into the Marshallese adoption business here, including any others who may be involved.

An airplane approaches Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. Authorities in three mainland states have finally cracked down on illicit Marshallese adoptions. Will that happen in Hawaii? Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

Civil Beat reported on Petersen and Loomis in its 2018 series on the Marshallese adoption racket, “Black Market Babies.”

At least three of Loomis’ adoptions identified by Civil Beat involved pregnant women who flew from the Republic of the Marshall Islands 2,000 miles from Hawaii to place their babies in adoptions or came with a newborn. The treaty between the U.S. and the RMI forbids travel for the purpose of placing a child in an adoption.

The series and subsequent reporting by Civil Beat about several lawyers who specialize in Marshallese adoptions shows that many of the birth mothers did not understand what they were getting into in accepting payment for their newborns. The adoptions took advantage of women of different cultural backgrounds whose economic circumstances made them vulnerable.

Laurie Loomis Marshallese adoptions Black Market Babies
Attorney Laurie Loomis is under investigation by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel. That’s a good start. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Some of the women were poorly treated once under the auspices of the adoption attorneys and their assistants. And questions of possible abuse of Medicaid have been raised.

The black market adoptions have gone on for more than a decade. They occur as more and more Marshallese are moving to Hawaii, Arkansas and other states under the Compact of Free Association treaty that permits them to do so.

The U.S. gives tens of millions of dollars to the RMI and two other Micronesian nations every year to help with infrastructure, education and other areas. But that money is set to expire in 2023 unless COFA is amended to continue financial support. Women in the Marshalls, an impoverished nation, could well be enticed to give up their babies for cash.

Loomis told Civil Beat she has followed the law in her adoption practice and that the women involved agreed to the adoptions. That seems like an ideal line of inquiry from our state and federal authorities.

In the meantime, Hawaii is one of only five states that does not place any restrictions on the types of expenditures for which a birth mother can be reimbursed. That opens the door to the kinds of lump sum payoffs that some birth mothers reported receiving in Loomis adoptions.

That seems like an ideal issue for the Hawaii Legislature to take up in the coming session.

Two decades ago, Marshallese and U.S. authorities tried to put in place tighter controls on Marshallese adoptions to protect naive mothers and innocent children. It’s long past time to crack down on unscrupulous attorneys who are still finding a lucrative way to slip through the net.

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