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Child Pornography and Child Abuse of Adopted Russian-Born Children

Aired June 8, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST (voice-over): The mystery of an abused young girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember clearly that first time you saw this kind of material?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I was going to cry. It took a lot to still hold it in. My stomach just flipped. And that still happens.

MANN: The crusade of a Canadian policeman.

DETECTIVE PAUL GILLESPIE, TORONTO POLICE DEPT.: It's been almost five years now, and just when you thought you had seen the worst, you come in to work the next day and some other depravity occurs which you just can't go there.

MANN: Then the unexpected outcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Florida, based on what we have, he would probably be facing life charges.


MANN: Hello and welcome.

There is a young girl living in a new home right now who may finally get a chance for things to go right, but her story is a sad and strange combination of things going wrong. People who abused her and others who tried to help and nothing working quite the way it should.

On our program today, a tragedy of errors.


(voice-over): It started with European and Canadian police who came across pornographic pictures of a youngster.

GILLESPIE: Over other arrest that we make, we find people that have different pictures of her. We have about 200 that we have recovered so far, and it's not unusual during the course of a month to find two or three new pictures that we'd never seen.

MANN: They wanted to find her, help her, but couldn't use the pictures themselves to track her down.

GILLESPIE: The risk being that, what happens if the offender sees them, recognizes that we're on to him. Could he do something? Could he do something to the victim?

MANN: So they retouched the pictures to take the girl out and identify only the place where the pictures were taken. It worked. People came forward to identify a hotel room at a Florida theme park.


The case didn't end there. It dragged on because even with the name of a popular hotel, there was no way to identify that one particular girl from the thousands of children and adults who stay there each year.

And then the case did break in a way no one expected.

Here's CNN's David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In June 2001 investigators believe a Pittsburgh engineer took his adopted daughter to a Disney resort in Orlando, where they suspect he sexually abused and photographed the blonde-haired child, then posted her pictures on the Internet.

GILLESPIE: It's horrific abuse of a very young, vulnerable child, and you just, once you've seen the images and you've seen the collection, what this set of pictures is, it really breaks your heart.

MATTINGLY: So from hotel rooms in Orlando to chatrooms in Toronto, investigators mounted an extraordinary search, and this surprising announcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have located the victim in our case.

MATTINGLY: Surprisingly, while detectives in two countries took their very public manhunt to more than a dozen states, the girl had already been rescued. Her adoptive father already convicted and imprisoned by federal authorities back in 2003.

That's when the FBI learned that the disturbing photos didn't begin to tell this little girl's story.

MARY BETH BUCHANAN, U.S. ATTNY.: Based upon all the evidence that we have seen, it does appear that the adoption was motivated by the defendant's interest in illegal sexual activity with children.

MATTINGLY: U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Western Pennsylvania describes how the girl had been adopted from Russia at the age of five by a 45-year-old divorced engineer working with agencies in the United States and abroad.

Buchanan says he sexually abused the girl throughout the years that followed, even kept her on a strict diet to make her look younger.

BUCHANAN: The child at age 11 did appear to be younger than an 11- year-old child, and the types of illegal material that this subject was trying to obtain on the Internet would involve children who were of the age of approximately 8 to 10, and specifically he was looking for images of young children who appeared -- who had a very thin appearance.

MATTINGLY: It was two years ago that the FBI pursued the girl's adoptive father from a child porn chatroom to his home in a rural suburb of Pittsburgh. That's where they found computerized evidence of child pornography and his tormented victim.

BUCHANAN: We believe that this was the first opportunity that this child had to disclose the activities that had been occurring to her. And luckily, the federal law enforcement agents who were executing the search were well trained in investigating cases involving child sexual exploitation.

MATTINGLY: The girl was immediately placed in foster care and has since been adopted by a new family far from the home where she endured such pain. Her abuser got the maximum sentence possible at the time, 15 years in prison for producing and possessing child pornography.

But more than 200 explicit photos of the girl continue to be traded by Internet pedophiles around the world, where they later caught the attention of authorities in Europe who alerted detectives in Toronto, where a second investigation was launched on a case that had already been solved.

(on camera): But detectives working this case say their experience will not be remembered as a complete waste of time. The search for this girl resulted in a series of law enforcement breakthroughs that may make it easier to find other victims of child pornography.

(voice-over): The Toronto police developed the idea of using computers to remove the victim from photographs and to recreate the rooms behind them. What they came up with were surprisingly accurate photos of crime scenes that they could share with the public.

For example, the bedspread in this photo led them to the Disney resort in Orlando. These bricks, spotted in some of the photos, were identified by experts and led the investigators to believe the girl was in Pennsylvania. Now the focus is on Florida, where it's possible new and tougher charges could be filed against the man who was once the child's adoptive father, charges that could carry a life sentence.

David Mattingly, CNN, Washington.


MANN: We take a break. When we come back we'll speak more with U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan about the case and the confusion and efforts to help other victims.

Stay with us.


MANN: Welcome back.

The child in the Internet pictures eventually became known to police as the hotel girl for the Orlando resort where some of those photos were taken.

Toronto Detective Gillespie was so frustrated he thought seriously of releasing the pictures of the victim herself. In the end, as we now know, it was unnecessary.

Joining us to talk about the case is the federal prosecutor you saw in our David Mattingly's report, Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania.

Thank you so much for being with us.

We have been portraying this story, fairly or unfairly -- I guess you could say -- as a series of oversights and errors. Someone let this girl go into the hands of a pedophile. No one apparently checked up on her, at least as far as we know, and then the Toronto police spent so long looking for her when she was already being helped.

Are we concentrating on the negative or is this the way the system is supposed to work?

BUCHANAN: I think that this case certainly began with a very unfortunate beginning, when a very young child at the age of five was adopted from Russia by a man whose intent was to sexually molest her.

He began molesting her almost immediately and this continued for a period of several years. However when law enforcement first learned about his interest in child pornography they immediately began sharing information, within a month's time had obtained a federal search warrant and searched his home and obtained evidence of illegal activity.

At that time, that's when law enforcement first learned that the child had been molested by her adoptive father and within a series of months he was indicted and convicted and very soon thereafter sentenced to the maximum penalty under federal law.

MANN: How come the Toronto police never found out about it? To this day, they still don't understand why they continued their investigation when yours was over and successful.

BUCHANAN: Well, the federal case ended in February of 2004, and it was at that time when the Toronto police released one photo of the child to federal enforcement. The child at the time was of a different age than the child was in the photos that had been part of the federal case, so that's why it was very difficult to make a match between these photos, because the Toronto police only provided a very small sample.

The match was able to be made when numerous photographs were provided by the Toronto police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to release all of its photos to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children so that a search of all of the photographs could be made.

MANN: So could the police have been saved a lot of time and trouble if the system had been organized differently, if it had worked differently? Were serious people taken off serious responsibilities to pursue a case that was at that point pointless?

BUCHANAN: This case really shows the commitment of law enforcement officers, federal, state and local, in this country and in Canada, to vigorously investigate and pursue those who would exploit children.

One of the things that I think we need to do moving forward is to expand our databases here and around the world so that we're able to share these images and train our analysts to be able to make these comparisons much quicker. In fact, in April of 2003 a new law was enacted which President Bush signed into law in April 2003 that expanded the funding for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to hire additional analysts and to expand the databases so that we can make comparisons in a much more expeditious manner.

MANN: Backing up a little bit, a lot of people may be wondering as they hear this story how this man ever got a child to begin with. Did he have a criminal record? If the adoption authorities had done a thorough investigation, would they have seen any sign of the horrible things that were to come?

BUCHANAN: Well, I can't really comment on this individual's prior record. He didn't have a criminal record and I can't really comment on what the adoption agency did in their evaluation of him or in determining whether his home would be an appropriate home for the child.

MANN: Well, let's talk about her. What kind of shape is she in today?

BUCHANAN: Today she has been adopted by a very loving family who has changed her name and moved her to another part of the country, where she can make a new start and have a very, very wonderful life ahead of her.

MANN: That's astounding. And what about him? One of the things I was struck by in David Mattingly's report is that potentially given what he did to this girl he didn't face the most serious charges possible, at least not at the federal level. There was the possibility of charges at the state level, both in Pennsylvania and in Florida. What's happening with that?

BUCHANAN: Matthew Mancuso was charged with the most serious offense available under federal law. When law enforcement officers have multiple charges, one law enforcement agency has to go first, and since this case was a federal investigation, we brought our charges and completed them within a matter of months.

After that, the law enforcement in the county where the crime occurred, the state prosecutor, would have an opportunity to bring additional charges, and since we know that new crimes occurred in Florida, state and federal law enforcement can bring additional charges. So I am certain that there will be more charges that will be filed against this individual in the future. But now we know that he is in federal prison for at least 15 years and 8 months.

MANN: Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, thank you so much for talking with us.

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

MANN: We take another break. When we come back, Americans adopt thousands of Russian children each year. Now Russia is starting to ask questions.

Stay with us.


MANN: Another Russian youngster who ended up adopted in the United States went to this home outside Chicago. Six-year-old Alex Pavlas's (ph) new parents said he was unstable and uncontrollable. Less than two months after his arrival, he was beaten to death. His mother was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Welcome back.

Violence is considered rare in international adoptions, but Alex Pavlas's (ph) case got extraordinary attention in Russia and the country has been rethinking how it sends children abroad and who it sends them to.

A short time ago we got in touch with Natasha Shaginian Needham, Moscow-based founder of an adoption agency known as the Happy Families International Center.


NATASHA SHAGINIAN NEEDHAM, HAPPY FAMILIES INTL. CTR.: The Russian government and Russian people absolutely do not want to see the situation where children are abused, and we understand that abuse can happen in any country, in any place in the world, and when abuse happens with any child this is a tragedy.

We are trying to protect the children to not be abused, not particularly from adoption from the States. It doesn't matter which country adopts the child, we just have to protect the children. And the most important thing to be sure is that when the families adopt the children, the families are ready for adoption, they're good families, they are adopting through accredited agencies and there is no independent adoptions which cannot be controlled.

MANN: There are shady people involved in international adoption in every country. I don't have to tell you that. I'm curious about how you would describe the situation in Russia now.

NEEDHAM: Well, I think since this situation happened in Chicago, every single newspaper, every single TV station was talking about this abuse, and some representatives from Duma wanted to stop international adoption and not to allow Russian children to be adopted by foreign couples. And a lot of agencies and a lot of people who work with the government were actually trying to stop that, because we have more than 700,000 children in orphanages right now in Russia, and the children cannot be adopted by Russian families.

There are still children who would be staying in the orphanages. So we have to face the situation in Russia that the children do need a family, and if we cannot help them in Russia, they have to be adopted by families who will open their hearts to our orphaned children.

MANN: We wish you good luck with you work, Natasha Shaginian Needham, of Happy Families International Center. Thank you so much for this.

NEEDHAM: Thank you.


MANN: Thousands of Russian children have found loving homes in the United States without incident, but according to published estimates, in the last decade adoptive parents in the United States have been accused of killing at least 12 Russian children.

Is there a problem? Joining us now to talk about that is Thomas Atwood, president of the U.S. National Council for Adoption.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Let me ask you, the Russians clearly feel that their children are not being treated properly or at least being cared for properly when they go into new families in the United States. Is it a matter of perception? Is it a matter of domestic politics? Or is there a problem?

THOMAS ATWOOD, U.S. NATL. COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION: Well, as your previous recorded guest, Natasha, said, abuse can occur in any family, whether adoptive or biological, and wherever the child is from.

These incidents are extremely rare indeed. One is too many. It should never happen. That's absolutely true. But 12, as you cited, is the highest estimate I've heard, and that's out of 43,000 children in 14 years. So if you compare that to the rate of children harmed by Russian parents in the general population or the kind of harm that children can suffer while in those Russian orphanages, that rate is probably less than those other rates.

MANN: The Russian government has been taking steps that would suggest at least they are unhappy. Correct me if I'm wrong. Three different adoption agencies have seen their licenses suspended, apparently because the Russians felt that they weren't monitoring the children in the appropriate way. Can you tell us more about that?

ATWOOD: Well, first of all, I think it's important to recognize that in every country of origin in international adoption, there is an understandable national pride that says we shouldn't let our children go to other countries, we should be able to take care of them ourselves.

We respect that instinct and certainly prefer domestic adoption as the preferred option. But clearly when a child is not being adopted domestically, he should or she should become eligible for international adoption. National pride, national boundaries, should not prevent children from having families.

The turn on the part of the Russian government to blame agencies is not really fair in some ways. You'd have to study these three cases you referred to individually to determine what's right there, but what's happened in the last nine months or so is there's been a reorganization of the adoption management process in the Russian government that for a period of many months resulted in no reaccreditations of the accredited agencies, who have very qualified and experienced and compassionate.

So it's not fair for the government now to turn to them and say you're not accredited. Well, the reason they're not accredited is because of this reorganization.

MANN: You met with Russian officials. You've been there recently. What were their concerns?

ATWOOD: Their concerns were that they don't want to see any more situations like Alex Pavlas (ph), and no one does. Clearly perhaps there could be some reforms, but there is also existing laws that could be enforced. We do not need to shut down adoptions in order to reform the process.

The proposal for a bilateral agreement, which is what the anti- adoption forces are advocating, would shut down adoptions between the United States and Russia, and that would be tragic for the children in the Russian orphanages who could enjoy a family.

MANN: I don't want to blame the victim here. Alex Pavlas (ph) was killed apparently by accident perhaps, but at the hand of his adoptive mother.

Still, she was complaining about something that other adoptive parents have suggested, which is they don't really understand the condition of the children they're getting, that sometimes the adoption process in Russia is deceptive and children with very serious problems go to families that can't understand those problems and can't handle them.

ATWOOD: It's very important for the parents to have a clear understanding of the challenges that may exist with a particular child. There is still no excuse for what Mrs. Pavlas (ph) did, of course, but one of the strategies that can really help with that is the approach of using accredited agencies for adoptions. Accredited agencies approved by the Russian government have the strong incentive to be enforcers of the rules themselves in order to maintain their accreditation.

Independent adoption is a little bit more difficult to control and there are a lot of the independent adoptions in Russia, including the Pavlas (ph) case.

MANN: We have less than a minute, but I want to ask you a question. Someone watching this question is going to be horrified about the story of a young girl adopted from Russia who was abused and then a young boy who was ultimately killed. Most of the times, this works, doesn't it?

ATWOOD: Oh, yes. I mean, adoption is a wonderful thing. Think of the children. This is what it's all about. It's all about those children who, when you walk into an orphanage, they say, "Are you my daddy?" and that's what we want to provide for these kids.

All children deserve a family and rare incidents such as these should not prevent the many thousands of children in Russian orphanages who could have a family from having a family.

MANN: Thomas Atwood, of the National Council for Adoption, thank you so much for talking with us.

ATWOOD: A final word before we go, a lot of the story of the young girl that we told you about looks different in retrospect than it did at the time. At first, the adoption would have seemed to outsiders like a generous way to help a youngster. The hunt for the adopted girl once she appeared on the Internet also seemed like a worthy endeavor.

Both she and the woman who has now given her a safe home have actually come forward to speak to the media and accorded a television interview. They regret it now. They have asked us not to broadcast it and we have not. One more thing that seemed like a good idea at the time.

That's INSIGHT for today. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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