Lawyer pleads guilty for part in baby-selling ring

Date: 2011-08-11

By The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A lawyer who specializes in reproductive law is the latest of three women to plead guilty for taking part in what federal prosecutors called a "baby-selling ring" that charged a dozen couples more than $100,000 to adopt babies born from surrogate pregnancies.

Theresa Erickson, 43, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Tuesday 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 Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and egg of donors.

Once the gestational carrier, or surrogate, reached 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 unborn 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.

Although 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.

The law is designed to prevent profit-making from the sale of parental rights. By falsely declaring the unborn baby was the result of a legitimate surrogacy arrangement, prosecutors said the defendants 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 got more than $20,000 in state insurance coverage for the pregnant women who were not otherwise eligible to receive 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.


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