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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lawyer and Two Others Plead Guilty in Baby-Selling Ring

3 plead guilty in California 'baby-selling ring'
The Associated Press -  August 10, 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA -- A California lawyer who specializes in reproductive law is the latest of three women to plead guilty for taking part in what federal prosecutors called a "baby-selling ring" that charged a dozen couples more than $100,000 to adopt babies born from surrogate pregnancies.  Theresa Erickson, 43, of Poway pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge William McCurine.  According to her plea agreement, Erickson along with a Maryland-based lawyer who also specializes in reproductive law and a Las Vegas woman, recruited women to travel to the Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and egg of donors.  Once a gestational carrier, or surrogate, reaches the second trimester of pregnancy, prosecutors claimed the defendants would "shop" the babies by falsely telling couples that a couple who had intended to adopt the baby backed out of the deal.  The new couple that agreed to adopt the unborn baby would have to pay more than $100,000 in fees. Women who agreed to carry the babies to term were paid from $38,000 to $45,000, court documents said.  While most of the surrogates and adoptive parents lived outside of California, prosecutors said the defendants broke state law by falsely declaring with the San Diego Superior Court that the unborn baby was part of an agreement made between the surrogate and the couple before pregnancy.  The law is designed to prevent profit making from the sale of parental rights. By falsely declaring the unborn baby was the result of a legitimate surrogacy arrangement, prosecutors said the defendants obtained pre-birth judgments that named the adoptive parents on the babies' birth certificates.  The surrogates were sent to Ukraine to have the embryos implanted because no American fertility doctor would perform such a procedure without documents proving that an agreement existed between the woman and the "intended parents," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Forge told the Los Angeles Times.  Additionally, prosecutors alleged the defendants misrepresented the identities of the sperm and egg donors and got more than $20,000 in state insurance coverage for the pregnant women who were not otherwise eligible to receive benefits.  The FBI investigated the scheme after receiving complaints from gestational carriers and others, said Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, an FBI spokesman in San Diego.  The couples who adopted the babies did not believe they were breaking the law and will not have their parental rights taken away, Forge said.  Erickson, who prosecutors believe profited about $70,000 through the scheme, will pay each of the 12 couples $10,000 in restitution and up to $250,000 in fines to the government. She faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 28. An afterhours call to Erickson's attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, was not immediately returned.  Hilary Neiman, the Maryland attorney, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on July 28. Carla Chambers, who is identified in court papers as a surrogate on multiple occasions and helped recruit women to be gestational carriers, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions derived from unlawful activity.  Court documents detail email exchanges in which Neiman and Chambers discussed inquiries from a prospective couple who wanted to know whether they and their close friends could each parent a set of twins.  "Firstly, I am not opposed to it, however it does not give me the warm fuzzies," Chambers replied. "My second thoughts would be, what if something goes wrong and one twin dies, there would need to be guidelines about what happens. I would of course to prefer to place together! But would be open to it."  Neiman and Chambers face the same penalties as Erickson when they are sentenced Oct. 14 and Oct. 28, respectively.


-------------- RELATED STORY:

Surrogacy Scandal Raises Question About Regulation
The Associated Press  -  August 11, 2011

She built a name for herself as a highly skilled reproductive law specialist in a state considered the nation's hub for surrogate pregnancies with its well-established network of sperm banks, fertility clinics and social workers.  But prosecutors say Theresa Erickson was actually working the system to become an international baby broker, running a birthing factory out of the Ukraine that duped at least a dozen American couples into paying $150,000 for children they thought were being adopted legally.  Details about the ring surfaced in federal court in San Diego in recent days after Erickson pleaded guilty to fraud charges in a case that prosecutors say highlights the need for more protection for adoptive parents, children and surrogate mothers.

Prosecutors described an elaborate scheme that stretched across two continents. Erickson and two others allegedly recruited women to go to the Ukraine and be implanted with embryos from anonymous donors.  They told their clients the babies had been part of a surrogacy contract and that the prospective parents had backed out at the last minute, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Forge said.  In fact, he said, there were never any such parents or contracts. The three were instead paying the surrogate mothers between $38,000 and $45,000 for each successful pregnancy and keeping the rest of the adoption money for themselves, Forge said.  They also misled the parents into believing they knew who the sperm and egg donors were when they were anonymous, he said.  Erickson also admitted to filing false applications for the surrogates to California's state insurance program to subsidize the medical costs of the deliveries of the babies.  The case highlights the need for more protection for the vulnerable adoptive parents, the babies involved and the surrogate mothers, Forge said.  He estimates Erickson raked in at least $70,000 alone from the scheme.  Erickson filed false declarations and pleadings in the San Diego Superior Court that the unborn babies were the result of a legitimate surrogacy arrangement to obtain pre-birth judgments that named the adoptive parents on the babies' birth certificates and guaranteed them full parental rights, according to court documents.  The parents will not lose their parental rights because they did not know any laws were being broken, Forge said.  The case, however, exemplifies how easily people involved in these arrangements can be taken advantage of, especially people desperate to have children, experts say.  "I would hope that the case enlightens legislators in terms of the vulnerability of the parents who want children and the need for additional protection for them and the carriers and the babies," Forge said.  He declined to elaborate on what those regulations would be exactly but experts say the case shows the challenge in trying to regulate the service, which has raised a host of questions by religious groups, bioethicists and others, particularly over whether it is ethical for surrogates to be paid.  Experts say California already leads the nation in trying to regulate the service and prevent such abuses  But at the same time, California "has become the capital of reproductive malpractice," said Glenn McGee, editor and chief of The American Journal of Bioethics, who has written a book about the topic called "The Perfect Baby." That's partly because the state has a flourishing surrogacy market that attracts people from around the globe looking to adopt through surrogacy pregnancies.  "There's a kind of a web of service in California that makes it a special place, and the attorneys know the law best because some of the most challenging cases involving surrogacy have been in California," said McGee, who works at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City.  California courts have made landmark rulings on the subject, including a 1998 case involving a couple who adopted a baby through a surrogacy pregnancy and wanted to get a divorce. The father claimed the baby was not his since he had no biological connection to the child. But the court found that when a married couple intends to procreate using a non-genetically related embryo implanted into a surrogate, the legal contract between them makes the couple the child's lawful parents.  The ruling laid the foundation for California's elaborate system of protecting surrogates.  The three women tried to beat that system, but got caught when some of their surrogate mothers tipped off federal investigators, officials say.  The other defendants are a Maryland-based lawyer who also specializes in reproductive law and a Las Vegas surrogate mother. Forge said the three used their contacts to find customers. Erickson, 43, spoke frequently about the topic on TV and radio because of her expertise in the subject.  "Surrogacy is hard to regulate and hard to do responsibly if there are market pressures, and if there are exploitative and predatory legal practices," McGee said. "There is so much potential for abuse here."  There are also genetic risks for future generations if no one knows who the donors are who are producing the children, McGee said.  At the same time, he said surrogacy has enriched the lives of countless people yearning to raise a child of their own, and he worries cases like this could stymie efforts to properly regulate it.  "This case will set back attempts to create clear standards for surrogacy again, and it's a very bad time for that to happen because there are more desperate parents than ever, there are more problems than ever with international exploitation of adoptions, and the government is ill-prepared to regulate this right now," McGee said.  Erickson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She has been ordered to pay each of the 12 couples $10,000 in restitution and up to $250,000 in fines to the government. She and the other two women face up to five years in prison when they are sentenced in October.  Erickson and her attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, declined to comment.  Hilary Neiman, the Maryland attorney, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on July 28. Carla Chambers, who is identified in court papers as the surrogate who helped recruit women to be gestational carriers, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions derived from unlawful activity.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another lovely attorney. Great!
And clowns like this are held to a higher standard?!?!
Oh, boy.....

wondering said...

And these corrupt attorney bastards would sell their mother for a penny too! Why don't the honest members of the legal community call for a national monitor to really address the corruption in the legal community?

Anonymous said...

They can move to NY after they finish their faux punishment. They've already passed the NY bar's character requirements and their time as criminal defendants will allow them to waive the written exam. In NY, their acts have a lower punishment than an expired parking meter. And the babies at least were placed in homes of parents with money, not like the many NY attorneys who send children to perverts.

Anonymous said...

These rats would sell their own mother

Anonymous said...

ANYBODY SELLS A BABY GETS SHOT
MULTIPLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Next the child molestors will attack children as they exit the womb.

As John Walter CEO of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society he is an expert at buying his way out of criminal prosecutions with public money

Anonymous said...

As a former client of one of the attorneys who pled guilty, I can say her ethical standards did not meet my own and I fired her! Surrogacy done correctly is a great thing for infertile couples, however, greed can take over otherwise intelligent people as it did here. I would hope these attorneys would be banned from practicing law, however, it was not even mentioned in the plea agreement as I've seen done in others.

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