March 25, 2005 — -- When Judith Mosley decided to adopt a Cambodian child, she thought she was offering a better life to an orphaned child in an impoverished land. She later learned that the woman who arranged the adoption, and hundreds of others like it, failed to share vital information about her daughter -- specifically, that she had family members in Cambodia.
The American woman who arranged the adoptions, Lauryn Galindo, is now facing an 18-month prison sentence for visa fraud and money laundering. "20/20's" Elizabeth Vargas traveled to Cambodia to investigate and meet the women and children at the heart of the story.
"They were commodities to Lauryn Galindo, she created the very market that existed, and she's responsible for that. There are enough orphans in this world to go around without recruiting children that are from happy families," said Mosley, who adopted her daughter, Camryn, through Galindo.
Galindo, an adoption facilitator in Cambodia for 13 years, admits to poor recordkeeping but insists that she was not involved in trafficking children. "I have never been involved or charged with anything other than paperwork errors. And that's what I pled to, that's what I'm going to go to prison for," she told Vargas.
But the U.S. government insists it was more than simple errors, citing what it says is evidence that her adoption business paid Cambodian mothers for their babies, sometimes for as little as the cost of a bag of rice.
Last year, Galindo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and money laundering in 17 cases. She denies baby trafficking but admitted falsifying documents that wiped out the identities of Cambodian children in those cases.
From 1997 to 2001, Galindo facilitated 800 adoptions for American families -- more than half of all Cambodian adoptions. No one knows how many of those orphans were in fact real orphans. Galindo insists it was the responsibility of the Cambodian government, orphanages and her own staff to make sure children were legally abandoned. She says she never checked to make sure they were really orphans.
Galindo told Vargas, "I never wanted to hurt anyone. You have to understand my motivation was pure in helping these children."
"What I pled to was knowing that there was additional information elsewhere to be had. And indeed, I did. And as I said, I made some mistakes," she said.
But her actions caused wrenching emotional pain to women who are grappling with the idea that they are raising another woman's child.
"I went in to adopt an orphan. I didn't go in to adopt a purchased child from a vulnerable woman," said Carol Rauschenberger, who adopted her son, Sam, using Galindo's services.
By all accounts, Galindo's work started with good intentions. In 1990, she traveled to Cambodia. Decades of war and the genocidal murder of nearly 2 million people had destroyed Cambodia and left it one of the poorest nations on Earth. Stories of selling children were common -- whether for prostitution, slave labor or adoption. With thousands of children in need of homes, Galindo set up the first U.S. adoptions from Cambodia. And American couples turned to Galindo for a quick adoption.
Michelle Goff of North Carolina also adopted a child through Galindo. "We got a phone call that said we've got referrals of some little girls out in Cambodia. And our daughter was one of them," Goff said.
But when these adoptive parents arrived, eager to meet the child they had only seen in pictures, they sensed something was wrong.
Rauschenberger said she was rushed straight from the airport to the orphanage, and then brusquely given the child. "They ran out to the car with my son in the nanny's arms and just handed him to me. And they told me just to get in the car and go to the hotel," she recalled.