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Assisted Reproduction

International Baby Selling Ring Broken; San Diego Attorney Pleads Guilty

While horrifying and despicable on numerous levels, it is important to note that this case is not about surrogacy, but rather the sale of babies (and wombs) under the guise of surrogacy:

A California lawyer who specializes in reproductive law pleaded guilty Tuesday for her role in what federal prosecutors called a “baby-selling ring” that charged a dozen couples more than $100,000 US to adopt babies born from surrogate pregnancies.

Theresa Erickson, 43, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud 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 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.
Surrogates sent to Ukraine

The law is designed to prevent the sale of parental rights to children, but by falsely declaring the unborn baby was the result of a legitimate surrogacy arrangement they 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 fraudulently obtained more than $20,000 in state insurance coverage for the surrogates, who were ineligible to receive the 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 after hour 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 recruited 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 if 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.”

Neiman and Chambers face the same penalties as Erickson when they are sentenced Oct. 14 and Oct. 28, respectively.


19 comments for “International Baby Selling Ring Broken; San Diego Attorney Pleads Guilty”

  • I laughed out loud at this comment and had to repost over at facebook: “it is important to note that this case is not about surrogacy, but rather the sale of babies (and wombs) under the guise of surrogacy” Let’s see, Theresa Erickson, the surrogacy lawyer was in the business of making money selling babies. Surrogacy needs lawyers because they have to draw up the contracts so that people get paid in exchange for incubating babies and handing them over to the intended parents. What am I missing here?

    • Dean

      What you are missing is the law. The law allows infertile couples to use the services of a surrogate so long as a contract is executed between the parties prior to the initiation of medical procedures. That is not baby selling. It is an philanthropic act to help disadvantaged people. Just like donating an organ is. Sending woman to the Ukraine to get pregnant, selling the baby to the highest bidder, and falsifying court records is a federal crime; just as selling organs to the highest bidder is. Get it now?

    • This case is about as much of a statement on the field of surrogacy as Casey Anthony is an indictment of all mothers.

      We are talking about aberrational incidents of criminal behavior by rogue individuals that are prevalent in every aspect of society. The fact that predators exist in the field of assisted reproduction is heart-wrenching and condemnable. It does not indict an entire industry that is dedicated to helping those experiencing infertility the ability to become parents.

  • Philanthropic act to help disadvantaged people? Would that be the poor women in India who are being paid to rent their wombs, or are you speaking of the wealthy infertile couple who has money to pay to buy a baby? I didn’t see anything in all the press I have read today on “highest bidder”? All I’ve read indicates the couples who got the babies were duped.

  • Philanthropic, altruistic, baby-selling, potato, pah-tah-to. Even if she broke the law with this new development, what she is doing is wrong on a moral level, legal or not. Governmental laws aren’t the standard by which we determine what is right and wrong.

    The woman is a baby-selling agent. These babies aren’t going to stay babies forever. They are going to grow up and likely be very angry about how they were conceived, who *didn’t* raise them, and who they are missing in their lives – their biological families.

    Perhaps you’re right – this isn’t about surrogacy. It’s about what is right and what is wrong. Children are not puppies to be bred and sold to bidders.

  • Andrew, comparing Theresa Erickson to Casey Anthony – wow, that’s a bridge to far for me. Ms. Erickson was an industry expert/leader (maybe even and industry darling? and now everyone is jumping ship and painting her as “aberrational”.

    • Jennifer,

      Perhaps you can point me to where I mentioned Ms. Erickson specifically, let alone compared her to anyone else? In fact, you are the only one in this thread that has invoked her name.

      Rather, I used an analogy to highlight the absurdity of generalizing and using an isolated situation to condemn an entire industry. Apparently the subtlety was lost.

  • I’m sorry Andrew, I thought the whole point of this post was Ms. Erickson and the fact that a leading surrogacy lawyer was just accused and plead guilty to baby selling?

    • We are going to have to agree to disagree then Jennifer. This case was about human trafficking, not surrogacy. It is irrelevant in my opinion whether those culpable were attorneys, plumbers or circus clowns. They trafficked in human life and called it surrogacy because it was a legal vehicle which served their purposes.

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    • Jon

      This is most definitely human trafficking. If Ms. Erickson ever leaves the US, she will surely be arrested by almost every other country on this planet that has signed the UN Human Rights charter. She might be able to plead guilty in the US and get a hand slap but in many countries she’d be facing a firing squad for these crimes.

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  • Surrogate12

    Erickson has sentencing January 27th in the Superior Court of San Diego, so let’s see what the judge orders as punishment. Dose anyone know what happened to the employee’s?

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