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Child Smuggler Busted In Chicago

By Chicago Sun-Times/Ghanaweb

Chicago, USA -- Esi Antobam, , a staunch member of the Ghanaian Pentecostal Church in Chicago, is being investigated for a scam involving the smuggling of the world's most precious resource: children. But what makes this story so shocking is that Antobam, who is now in federal custody, is the mother of three adopted former Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) wards--Patrick, Isaac and Kojo Beck--who now reside in Ghana, according to sources, and were listed as missing for the first time Friday by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The U.S. attorney's office and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials are trying to determine whether the three boys, all brothers, were being used in an elaborate smuggling operation which may have involved the sale or trade of children, sources said. In addition, Gov. Blagojevich wants to know what happened. "We are still not getting the kind of information we want," he said. "We are just trying to get our arms around it right now." Antobam, who reportedly told her Bolingbrook neighbors she ran an orphanage in Ghana--and even showed them newspaper clippings about her enterprise--was first stopped at O'Hare International Airport on March 3, 2002, trying to smuggle her 4-year-old granddaughter into the country from Ghana, according to federal affidavits. They were using passports investigators later determined belonged to a family who once lived in a residence that she owned. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took custody of the granddaughter, according to the federal affidavits. DCFS then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service to take custody of the girl because it was determined that she was not a U.S. citizen. The affidavit does not state where the granddaughter is now. The feds now believe that Antobam, who lived in the 300 block of Pheasant Chase Drive, is the architect of an intricate scam to smuggle aliens into this country, arrange marriages between Americans and Ghanaian citizens, and dupe the Illinois Department of Human Services into sending her checks for fraudulent child care services. She also is purported to run a day care center, when in fact she is unemployed. Most shocking of all is an allegation that Antobam may have bought a child. In May 2002, a former tenant of Antobam's told INS Special Agent Liam O'Neill that "Antobam currently has a child living with her named Quaqoo, and that Antobam told her that she purchased this child." Investigators then went to Antobam's house and spotted a young boy leaving it. "When asked his name, the boy responded, 'Quaqoo,'" according to O'Neill. "When asked if he lived at this residence, the boy responded, 'I guess so.'" The feds also interviewed a witness who claims she found three suitcases in the attic of one of Antobam's residences containing approximately $100,000 in cash. The affidavits also state that Antobam's Bank One account in 2001 contained thousands of dollars worth of checks from the state payable to four different individuals from two different addresses ... and received over $200,000 from the Illinois Department of Human Services between January 1998 and Sept. 16, 2002. Word is Antobam applied for benefits claiming 11 children lived with her. And here is another shocker. A hearing will be held at the Will County Juvenile Court in Joliet on Monday on foster care placement for two other former DCFS children Antobam adopted--in addition to a third child. "These children are in addition to the three children she adopted who now reside in Ghana," said a source. Antobam will also appear in federal court Monday for a status hearing on her felony charge of alien smuggling. The incident at O'Hare in March involving Antobam's granddaughter is what sparked a seven-month investigation that led to Antobam being arrested on Oct. 21 at her Bolingbrook home. When INS agents raided Antobam's house that day, they said they found a suitcase full of passports in various names. There were also four illegal aliens--two children and two adults--in her house. Antobam was found hiding under a large pile of clothes, they said. For at least two years, a phalanx of people have been coming and going at odd hours from Antobam's two-story, gray-sided home, neighbors say. One neighbor, who didn't want to be identified, said many were children and some appeared to be less than a year old. The house often was quiet and seemingly deserted during the day, but would be ablaze with lights and activity at 2 a.m. Since last spring, five children appeared to be living there continuously, three girls and two boys, ranging in age from about 3 to 17, the neighbor said. The children said they were from Ghana and had been adopted by Antobam, who, according to neighbors, frequently wasn't around. The children also appeared to be largely unsupervised. "It seemed the kids would be there by themselves for days," said a neighbor. The question is ... who are these children and where are they now? News Just In (not included in the original report & unconfirmed) The lady, a staunch member of the Ghanaian Pentecostal Church in Chicago, donated a van to the church.