An internationally renowned surrogacy lawyer Theresa Erickson specializing in surrogacy and adoptions was sentenced on February 24, 2012 to five months in prison and nine months of home confinement as well as a $70,000 fine and three years of supervised release for her role in a baby-selling scheme.
Theresa Erickson pleaded guilty in August 2011 having acknowledged that she and two other attorneys – Carla Chambers and Hilary Neiman – used numerous surrogate mothers to create “an inventory of unborn babies” that they would sell for more prospective parents.
Erickson’s co-defendant Carla Chambers, a nurse from Las Vegas, was sentenced to five months in prison and five months home confinement, according to Fox 5 San Diego. Hilary Neiman, a Maryland attorney, also pleaded guilty in the case. She was also sentenced in December to five months in prison and seven months in home confinement.
The scheme lasted for six years, beginning in 2005:
Theresa Erickson and two co-defendants collected fees from couples who thought they were paying in advance for parental custody of babies born to surrogate mothers and available for adoption because a surrogate’s original clients had backed out of their contracts.
In actual fact, U.S. surrogates were sent to Ukraine for IVF and implantation of embryos from anonymous donors. When the women were in their second trimester of pregnancy, Erickson and her associates offered the babies to prospective parents, telling them the developing fetuses were the results of legal surrogacy arrangements in which the original parents refused of their contracts.
The parents would pay between $100,000 and $150,000 to the defendants, but less than half of that went to the surrogate — Erickson, Neiman, and Chambers pocketed the rest.
At the hearing Theresa Erickson admitted to filing false documents with the San Diego County Family Court aiming to make the supposed surrogacy arrangements acceptable to the court. State law requires such agreements to be signed before pregnancy which carry other requirements and costs. Otherwise, prospective parents must go through the more complicated process of adoption.
Desperate for an infant of their own, unsuspecting U.S. couples did not understand the legal complexities involved. On the other hand, the procedure included stress on surrogates too who learned late in their pregnancies that there were no parents for their unborn children. So, both the prospective parents and surrogates were unaware of the scam.
As of today, no one knows how many babies were created during the scheme, and important genetic information for the infants may have been lost forever.
There are additional law firms in the USA that are under investigation for fraud now. Also, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine is currently working on a list of unreliable Fertility Clinics that would also include IVF Clinic’s in the USA that have High birth defects (meaning, genetic testing is not being done).