- Special Projects
Honolulu attorney Laurie Loomis had lined up pregnant women from the Marshall Islands who would fly to the U.S. and place their newborns in adoptions.
But to find the U.S. couples who wanted to adopt those babies, she relied on an Atlanta business called Faithful Adoption Consultants.
FAC charged a $4,000-plus fee to prospective adoptive couples to connect them to dozens of agencies and private attorneys with babies to place. Unlike adoption agencies, regulated by states, FAC is a part of a growing number of consultants that can operate in many states at once without any licensing or regulatory oversight.
And according to emails and other communications reviewed by Civil Beat, FAC forwarded information from Loomis to adoptive parents showing that the birth mothers were flying from the Marshall Islands, despite a treaty between the two countries barring travel to the U.S. for the purposes of adoption.
“I have a new expectant mom who just moved here from the Marshall Islands,” according to a 2016 message from Loomis, forwarded to would-be adoptive parents by FAC. The woman was due to give birth in Hawaii in ten days.
“The birth father is known and will sign a consent to the adoption,” Loomis added. “No drugs or alcohol, etc.”
The Marshall Islands were considered a desirable source for babies because of the supposedly lower incidence of drug and alcohol use among birth mothers compared to their U.S. counterparts, as FAC’s messages made clear.
The Marshallese birth mothers “see adoption as more of a surrogacy, so they take very good care of themselves,” according to a background section in FAC’s emails. “They are very healthy, no smoking, drugs, alcohol, etc. They rarely have any mental illness or health concerns. They are a very healthy group of people overall.”
According to the World Health Organization, “The Marshall Islands is burdened by high mortality and morbidity for both noncommunicable and communicable diseases … The high consumption of imported canned and instant food, lack of physical exercise and use of tobacco products are all associated with the high prevalence of noncommunicable diseases and obesity.”
The FAC emails also provided information for U.S. couples unfamiliar with Pacific geography: “The Marshall Islands are southeast of Asia.”
FAC describes itself as a Christian referral service and requires its clients, both husbands and wives, to be active in their “pro-life” churches, as documented by letters from their pastors.
It places an emphasis on birth mothers being able to choose the couples who will adopt their children and to stay in touch with the adoptive family.
But in at least one Loomis adoption reviewed by Civil Beat, a birth mother later disclosed that she did not pick the adoptive couple at all — the choice was made solely by Loomis.
Loomis has refused to speak with Civil Beat about her adoption practice other than to insist that she has been in strict compliance with all applicable laws.
In an interview, Emory Lott, cofounder of FAC and husband of executive director Courtney Lott, said Loomis adoptions represented a small part of the 350 to 400 adoptions FAC finalizes each year — a little more than 20 over two years. Lott said FAC stopped working with Loomis more than two years ago after hearing news reports questioning Marshallese adoptions and deciding they were too much of a risk for FAC’s clients.
He said FAC had no reason to doubt Loomis, pointing out she was in good standing with the Hawaii state bar and a prestigious national academy of adoption lawyers.
“From our end, there were no issues legally with the adoptions she was doing,” he said. “In fact, they all passed Honolulu courts” as well as an interstate compact governing adoptions between states. “All the adoptions that FAC families did through Laurie Loomis were all finalized.”
After Civil Beat published a story about Loomis’ Marshallese adoptions in November, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which polices Hawaii’s attorneys, announced that it would investigate her.
FAC does not work directly with birth mothers, since that can only be done by a licensed agency or attorney, Lott said. As a result, during the two years it worked with Loomis, FAC had no way of knowing whether the women had traveled to the U.S. for adoptions or were already living here, he said.
But to find out more, FAC needed only examine the materials it was forwarding on behalf of Loomis. Civil Beat reviewed several cases in which it’s either clear or very likely the birth mother was arriving in the U.S. while pregnant.
“The birth mother very recently moved from the Marshall Islands to the United States,” Loomis wrote in a document forwarded by FAC executive director Courtney Lott to adoptive parents in early 2017. The Marshallese woman was due to give birth in Honolulu five days later.
In her letter, Loomis acknowledges “controversy” over U.S. adoptions involving women who travel to the U.S. from the Marshall Islands and then return home. This case, she wrote, was different because the biological parents planned to move permanently to the U.S. and did not come for the purposes of the adoption.
“However, there is always a risk that despite our due diligence and efforts to ensure a voluntary placement, Marshallese or United States officials may not agree with our interpretation of the law,” she wrote.
In fact, the head of the Marshall Islands agency that oversees international placements told Civil Beat last year that Marshallese law and the treaty between the U.S. and Marshall Islands clearly prohibit traveling for adoptions.
That’s true even if the birth parents plan to stay in the U.S. afterwards, said Claudia Lokeijak, director of the Central Adoption Authority.
Likewise, the U.S. State Department told Civil Beat last year that mothers planning to give up children for adoption cannot travel without a visa to the U.S., as other Marshallese citizens can, “regardless of whether they also intend to travel to the United States for additional, other purposes.”
FAC says it advocates for birth mothers being able to choose adoptive couples and for open adoptions. In a speech to the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., in 2018, Courtney Lott decried the kinds of adoptions done from the 1950s to the ‘80s, when birth mothers had no idea where their children ended up.
“Along with that comes incredible grief,” she said.
In FAC adoptions, she said, “the mom chooses who she wants to parent her child.”
But in its story on Loomis in November, Civil Beat described one case in which the birth mother did not get that chance.
The adoptive parents put together a profile book, and were under the impression that the birth mother had looked through that before deciding on them. But the birth mother later disclosed that she had not seen the profile book — Loomis had made the decision for her.
Emory Lott said FAC normally transmits many adoptive family profiles to lawyers and agencies to show birth parents and did not have any reason to believe that Loomis was not doing so.
“If that was something we knew about we would absolutely stop that,” he said.
Loomis was one of several attorneys who were the subjects of a Civil Beat investigation, “Black Market Babies,” published last year. The series documented how the lawyers defied legal reforms meant to give the Marshall Islands government control over international adoptions.
The reforms were put in place nearly two decades ago after a surge of adoptions in which many Marshallese birth mothers, raised in a culture with a much different understanding of adoption, were not fully informed of what it would mean — that their children, for instance, would not return to them at the age of 18.
Another lawyer whose activities were documented in Civil Beat’s investigation, Paul Petersen, is facing federal and state charges in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas related to his Marshallese adoption business. He is also the elected assessor of Maricopa County, Arizona, although he is facing pressure to resign.
Yet another, Texas attorney Jody Hall, was forced to shutter her Marshallese adoption business after Civil Beat wrote about her activities. Sources recently told Civil Beat they have been contacted by the State Bar of Texas about her.
Our small newsroom believes wholeheartedly that news and information is a public service – not something to be hidden behind paywalls or diluted by ads. Your donations ensure that our reporting remains free and accessible to all communities, regardless of a person’s ability to pay. For a limited time become a Civil Beat donor and we’ll throw in a limited-edition Civil Beat t-shirt!