The truth will set you free.

But first, it will piss you off. So saith Rita Mae Brown, and she had a point.

This week, lawyers in South Carolina are choosing a jury for Mary Mooney. Of all the adoption agency owners in all the developing countries in all the world, she is the unlucky one…I hope.

Her co-workers have pled guilty already and so Mooney’s trial is a unique chance to get a look inside the sausage factory of international adoption.

Mooney is charged with conspiring to commit visa fraud. According to the indictment, by hiring local staff to run around villages in Ethiopia and recruit poor families to transfer their babies’ custody to her agency, she committed and profited from a crime.

That’s surprising, because while Mary Mooney was making a living for 15 years running all around the world hiring people to do that same thing, from Viet Nam and Cambodia to Africa and Eastern Europe, it sure looked like that was her job. All along, apparently it was fraud to create paper trails for the children her agency wouldn’t have been able to place with US families if they had told the truth.

The truth is that, for 20 years of booming revenue and expanding markets for US adoption agencies, this is how they worked: Hire local staff. Encourage families to take a small gift in exchange for custody of their babies, with the understanding that the child will be back in 15 years or so. Fabricate documents for national government officials–US and the placing country–that state the children are orphans with no known family. Find US families with an extra $30,000 laying around and relieve them of it–the US will offset $10K of it in the form of a tax rebate, so there’s no real limit to the fees agencies can demand.

As long as the adopting families believe the stories you tell, you can go on like that for 15 years. Oh, and make sure to gather credentials that imply you’re one of the good guys, like starting the National Association of Ethical Adoption Professionals. Get on the committee that implements the treaty regulating international adoption, because laws are one thing and how they are enforced is another thing entirely.

And, to beggar the meaning of irony, why not improve the most widely-read journalism on the fraud and deception in international adoption with a juicy quote about unethical practices in placing countries?

Mary Lib Mooney, director of the National Association of Ethical Adoption Professionals, blames the large number of U.S. agencies using freelance facilitators, who operate on commission, rather than salaried staff members to locate adoptable children in foreign countries for the cycle of corruption. ”They go to these countries, and they hire any Tom, Dick or Harry,” she says. ”Whether it’s the trash man or a schoolteacher, they hire whoever can get the most babies for them. It’s money, money, money.”

Mooney would know. If the government can prove the charges against her, that will have two positive effects.

By punishing Mooney for doing what everyone did, the US sends a deterrent message to future adoption entrepreneurs. If the State Department plans to enforce our laws here and through our embassies, it’s only fair to give a warning shot. Lauryn Galindo, who placed more than 800 Cambodian children with US families, pled guilty…to money laundering. The couple who owned Focus on Children, an agency specializing in Samoan children who were old enough to tell their adoptive families that they had been taken from birth families illegally, were permitted to plead guilty and pay a fine. So it’s time someone went to trial to raise the risk level for others–that’s a legitimate function of law enforcement.

The trial as a fact-finding tool, though, may be more important. In the transparency offered by this form of exploration, the facts will come out. And while the truth of adoption is still unassembled–we’re all just blind people reporting on the part of the elephant we can touch–while I empathize with the adoptive families who are hoping and wishing and dreaming that nothing like this happened to their child, that their adoption was one of the good ones, that their kid’s paperwork was accurate–the facts are a start.

UPDATE: The US department of Justice just accepted a guilty plea from Mooney.

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