Breaking news out of Fresno as Tonya Collins has changed her plea to guilty:
A woman who ran a Modesto surrogacy agency has pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud after bilking would-be parents out of millions of dollars, authorities said. Tonya Ann Collins, 37, pleaded guilty in federal court in Fresno, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. She could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in May.
Court documents show that from November 2006 through March 2009, Collins carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates and banks through her company, Surrogenesis, and the associated Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding Group.
According to the plea agreement, Collins used the Surrogenesis and Michael Charles accounts for unauthorized personal purchases that included automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing, and vacations for herself and others, without the clients’ knowledge or consent. Collins used client trust funds in the Michael Charles accounts to directly pay for her personal purchases and also transferred client funds from the Michael Charles accounts to other bank accounts that she controlled before spending the funds. As a result of Collins’ conduct, Surrogenesis and Michael Charles clients, surrogates, and financial institutions suffered losses of more than $2 million.
I will have more thoughts on this plea deal soon. For now though, no matter how much time Ms. Collins serves or money she is ordered to pay in restitution, this news will be bittersweet for those would-be-parents whose dreams of having a family were stolen from them by Collins.