A federal judge sentenced an internationally renowned surrogacy lawyer Friday to five months in prison and nine months of home confinement for her role in a baby-selling scheme that prosecutors say spanned two continents and netted millions of dollars.
With her guilty plea, Theresa Erickson acknowledged that she and two other women used numerous surrogate mothers to create an inventory of unborn babies that they would sell for more than $100,000 each, federal prosecutors said.
U.S. surrogates were sent to be impregnated in the Ukraine with embryos from anonymous donors. When the women were in their second trimester, Erickson and her conspirators offered the babies to prospective parents, telling them the developing fetuses were the results of legal surrogacy arrangements in which the original parents backed out.
Erickson used her fame as a leading reproductive law specialist to win the trust of both the surrogates and intended parents, prosecutors said.
During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Bataglia said Erickson caused a "parade of tragedy" that included stress on surrogates who learned late in their pregnancies that there were no parents for their unborn children.
One surrogate mother, Kimberly Schooley, told the judge she miscarried and was forced to name and cremate the child by herself. Under a legal arrangement, the judge pointed out, the surrogate mother would have had the support of the prospective parents.
Bataglia called the 44-year-old Erickson the ringleader who used her knowledge to work the system in California - the hub of the surrogacy industry - and to dodge its progressive laws designed to protect surrogate mothers, prospective parents and babies. She also tainted the birth stories of the babies, he said.
"I am still offended by a lawyer that would manipulate the laws," Bataglia said, adding that Erickson's case suggested more laws are needed.
Bataglia also ordered Erickson to pay a $70,000 fine. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
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