CLEVELAND, Ohio — The owner of a former international adoption agency admitted charges Friday of fraudulently adopting a child, who later suffered severe abuse.
Margaret Cole, 74, of Strongsville pleaded guilty in US District Court in Cleveland. She appeared just days before her trial before Judge James Gwin on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false statements to Polish officials. Gwin will decide the sentence on May 27.
Cole owned European Adoption Consultants, a company she founded in 1991. It operated in several countries, including Poland and Uganda.
She is the third person connected to the agency to plead guilty to criminal charges. Debra Parris of Lake Dallas, Texas, and Robin Longoria of Mansfield, Texas, previously admitted charges involving their work for the company. They will be sentenced next month.
The charges against Cole alleged that in 2015 she worked to bring a child from Poland to Parris’ parents in Texas. They were not eligible for international adoptions.
Court records allege that a client in Salt Lake City, Utah, sought to adopt a child, but the child had a sibling. The family felt they could not meet the physical and emotional needs of two children. To make the adoption happen, Parris’ relatives took in the second child.
Cole’s agency did not do background checks or home surveys of Parris’ family members. Cole admitted to concealing that the child had been transferred to a parent’s home from the adoption agency. One of Parris’ relatives was sentenced to 48 years in prison for abusing the child.
The charges accuse Cole of lying to Polish authorities in order to continue profiting from adoptions there. She wrote to officials that the crime appeared to have taken place overseas.
The plea comes at the end of a year-long case against European Adoption Consultants. In 2017, the Ohio Attorney General’s office pushed for the agency to be shut down. He claimed the agency failed to follow through on the services it promised its clients, according to documents filed in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The attorney general’s office reached a settlement in 2019 that said Cole violated state consumer protection laws. Cole’s company was ordered to pay $260,000 in restitution and more than $37,000 in penalties.
Federal prosecutors also accused agency employees of bribing judges and welfare officers to adopt children from 2013 to 2016. Many of the children whose adoption was obtained through bribery and fraud “were not properly determined to be orphans,” according to the indictment.
Longoria and Parris were charged in those allegations, according to the charges.