Reese Dunklin at the Dallas Morning News has written a must-read piece on the SurroGenesis and Michael Charles Holding’s scandal. Among the highlights:
The woman at the center of the storm now is Tonya Collins, 33, head of the SurroGenesis agency. She lives behind a locked gate in her upscale Tarrant County neighborhood and has not responded to interview requests.
Her criminal defense lawyer, Kevin Clancy of Dallas, said there appears to be no money to repay former clients. He did not think she could afford to hire an attorney to challenge the class-action lawsuit’s allegations.
Asked whether she denied misusing the funds, he replied, “I can’t really say anything but ‘no comment.’ ”
Jack Kiserow, Collins’ business partner in an escrow company where the millions were supposed to be safely stored in an interest-bearing account, denied any wrongdoing. He blamed her and said he’s cooperating with authorities.
“It wasn’t supposed to function with her stealing client funds and crashing multiple companies,” said Kiserow, who lives in a suburb of Reno, Nev., and worked as a SurroGenesis regional director. “I want to see her [expletive] in prison.”
A Dallas Morning News check of records found that both he and Collins went through personal bankruptcy before going into business together. Both used online biographies that included questionable statements about their credentials, the investigation found.
On Collins being no stranger to fraud:
Tonya Collins entered the world of surrogacy in early 2005, when she gave birth to a baby girl for a couple. Months later, she opened SurroGenesis in Modesto, Calif., where she lived at the time.
For a fee of $12,000 or more, SurroGenesis offered to match families and surrogates, help coordinate doctor appointments, do legal research and manage funds that clients were required to deposit. Those additional funds, covering things such as medical bills and prescriptions, could exceed $100,000.
Collins marketed her experience as a surrogate on the agency’s Web site. She also said that she had experience in crisis management and public relations as a claims manager for an automobile club, and that she studied chemistry at the University of the Pacific.
But the private university in Stockton, Calif., said it found no evidence that she ever attended. And the auto club said its claims managers do not do crisis management or public relations.
Her financial history includes a 1997 personal bankruptcy and failure to pay California employment taxes for a home-care business she formed, a review by The News found. The business is defunct.
In June 2006, Collins helped incorporate Michael Charles Independent Financial Holdings Group. The escrow company shared an address with SurroGenesis. She was listed as director and secretary. Kiserow was president, treasurer and director.
Kiserow told The News he became friends with Collins after he and his partner used SurroGenesis to find the surrogate who gave birth to their triplets in 2006. His partner, Michael Kiserow, explained their decision to have children in a Reno Gazette-Journal profile that year.
“I wanted to have the typical gay couple lifestyle where you have a really nice house, nice car, fantastic vacations and a lot of disposable income,” Michael Kiserow said. “But after a while, I realized that we actually had those things.”
Five years earlier, Jack Kiserow had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and had many of his debts discharged, according to federal court records.
In the filing, he reported about $60,000 in credit card debt and said he lost $20,000 in stock in a Nevada corporation. That company purported to act as an online escrow service and was banned from selling securities in at least two states.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the company,” Kiserow said.
He reported $128,000 in assets – mostly his house, on which he said he had two mortgages.
In an online bio, he said he attended the University of Nevada at Reno “with a focus in business management.” A school official said Kiserow took classes for one semester as a College of Agriculture student.
In an interview, Kiserow said he actually studied veterinary medicine at the university and business later at a community college. Asked about the phrasing of the bio, he said: “It’s not like I had time to be checking all that stuff.”
On the FBI beginning a formal investigation:
That suit was filed two weeks ago in California. It names SurroGenesis and the Michael Charles group, as well as Kiserow and Collins individually.
Clients blame her primarily. They say they believe she used their money on the good life in Colleyville, where she lives in a 4,400-square-foot home appraised at about $325,000. Values in the neighborhood range up to $1.5 million, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
“She’s always been friendly” and pays her $3,500 rent on time, said her landlord, homebuilder Gary Panno.
The FBI is in the early stages of a formal investigation, said spokesman Special Agent Steve Dupre. U.S. Postal Service inspectors are also investigating, spokeswoman Amanda McMurrey said.
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