California surrogacy attorney Theresa Erickson was sentenced to five months in prison, and nine additional months of house arrest for masterminding a surrogacy/adoption fraud. She was also fined $70,000. She had faced the possibility of five year in prison, so many think the sentence is a mere slap on the wrist. Her two partners in the scheme, Hilary Neiman, a Maryland reproductive law attorney, and Carla Chambers, a former surrogate, were given five months in prison and seven months in home confinement. Neiman was sentenced in December and is currently serving her time at a minimum-security prison in Kentucky.
The scheme, which federal authorities called “essentially an adoption mill” that created “an inventory of unborn babies” for sale worked like this. Embryos were created in Ukraine from donor eggs and donor sperm. American doctors are required to check for documentation of a surrogacy agreement before transferring embryos to a surrogate. Proof of a legitimate surrogacy arrangement before transfer is not required in Ukraine. Chambers and Neiman recruited women to act as surrogates. The surrogates would travel to Ukraine for the embryo transfer.
In the second trimester of the surrogate’s pregnancy, Erickson would contact prospective parents and offer them the baby under the false pretense that the original surrogate parents had backed out of the agreement. She then filed fraudulent paperwork in court to back up her story. Couples were charged between $100,000 and $150,000 for each baby. Surrogates who completed the pregnancy were paid between $38,000 and $40,000. The surrogate mothers themselves were unaware of the fraud, and ultimately some of them helped the FBI uncover the scheme.
It seems to me the lowest of the low to prey on people desperate for a child. It is terrifying to think where the creation of children for “surrogacy” or adoption could lead. All of us, including would-be parents, have to be vigilant. If it seems too easy, or too quick, or it has an off-smell, be wary. We have resources to help you identify and avoid surrogacy, egg donation, and adoption fraud. Mel, over at Stirrup Queen has a wonderful blog on this situation and how it has affected her and the whole online infertility community.
Image credit: Bete a Bon-Dieu