SAN DIEGO -- An internationally renowned attorney from Poway specializing in reproductive law pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to being part of a baby-selling ring that deceived the San Diego Superior Court and prospective parents for unborn babies.
Theresa Erickson, a lawyer specializing in reproductive law, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for transmitting phony documents to deceive both the San Diego County Superior Court and couples seeking to become parents. Two other people in the ring have also pleaded guilty.
Shortly after the news broke, Erickson posted a message on Facebook asking friends to hold their judgement.
According to court documents, Erickson hired women in San Diego to go to Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and eggs of donors.
The women would return to San Diego when they were in the second trimester of pregnancy, and Erickson would offer the babies to couples, telling them that a couple who had intended to adopt the baby from a surrogate mother had backed out of the deal. The new couple would then be charged between $100,000 and $150,000, according to prosecutors.
California law prohibits the sale of parental rights to babies and children but permits surrogacy arrangements if the woman expecting to carry the baby and the people who want the child enter into an agreement prior to an embryonic transfer, authorities said.
"These were people who desperately wanted babies," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jason A. Forge.
Dr. Rachel Zahn with Angels Foster Family Network said she undertands the desperation some people feel to have a child.
"It is almost a biological urge and, women who you talk to who are getting to a certain age where they may no longer be able to have their own biological children you hear that desperation," Zahn said. "It explains a lot of the extremes that people will go to and the things they will do to have not only their own biological child but to have a child, to become a parent."
Women who agreed to carry the embryos to term were paid between $38,000 and $40,000, Forge said. They were sent to the Ukraine for the implantation procedure, because no U.S. doctor would do the procedure without documents proving that a surrogacy agreement existed between the woman and the intended parents, Forge said.
The couples who "bought" the babies did not believe they were breaking the law, Forge said. The babies were healthy and the couples will not have their parental rights taken away.
Erickson is the third member of the conspiracy to plead guilty.
Hilary Neiman, a 32-year-old Maryland attorney specializing in reproductive law, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 14.
Carla Chambers, 51, of Las Vegas, is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 28, the same day as Erickson.