More from the Modesto Bee:
Federal authorities allege that Tonya Collins kept seeking out more clients and taking their money, even after the surrogacy agency she ran collapsed because she spent the fees she collected on herself.
According to federal court records, Collins, 36, took more than $2 million from people whose families SurroGenesis promised to “complete” through egg donor and surrogacy services. Collins, formerly of Modesto, is set to appear in federal court in Fresno today on charges of fraud and money laundering.
“She was simply withdrawing that money to meet whatever lifestyle she was wanting for herself,” said Andrew Vorzimer, a reproductive law attorney who represents some plaintiffs in civil lawsuits against Collins and the defunct SurroGenesis.
Collins was arrested April 20 at her home in Antelope, in Sacramento County. She had moved from Modesto to Texas before returning to California, authorities said. She was released from custody later that day. Her attorney, Jeremy Kroger of the federal defender’s office, did not return messages for comment.
Vorzimer said SurroGenesis purported to have more than 50 offices around the country and internationally, “but if you went to Google Earth and punched in the address, it would come up with a pasture in Colorado or a gas station.”
Authorities say Collins steered her clients to Michael Charles Independent Financial, which was purported to be a personal property escrow company that would hold clients’ funds in trust and pay out surrogacy fees, medical fees and costs associated with the surrogacy process. But Collins owned Michael Charles, which she concealed from clients by creating fictitious employee identities to make it appear it was an independent company with its own staff, prosecutors said.
Her business partner, Jack Kiserow, and her husband, James Collins, previously said they had no idea that Tonya Collins might have been stealing. Court records show Tonya Collins is accused of bilking money between 2006 and 2009 from people as far away as Ireland and Germany, using the money to buy “automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing and vacation trips for the defendant and others.”
Vorzimer said Collins also put surrogate mothers on her payroll so they would be covered under the company’s health insurance policy, avoiding the need to take out a separate, more expensive policy typical of surrogacy agreements. But those women didn’t work for Collins. Many of Vorzimer’s clients trusted SurroGenesis with their life savings in hopes of having a child. Some got help through other agencies and through surrogates who forfeited their fees, but others saw their dreams disappear.
Collins was successful at hiding her theft, Vorzimer said, because she operated SurroGenesis as a Ponzi scheme, using money from new clients to pay the fees for older ones. Her references generally checked out, he said, because the lawyers and doctors she worked with saw results. “She wasn’t just your typical garden variety scammer,” Vorzimer said. “She was creating relationships with a number of professionals in this industry.”
While many of Vorzimer’s clients were relieved to see Collins face criminal charges, “That’s not justice,” Vorzimer said. “There is no remedy that a court can fashion. … She can’t replace ultimately what she took.”