Attorney voices regret at being part of 'baby-selling' conspiracy
A Maryland attorney who has pleaded guilty to being part of a national "baby-selling" ring allegedly organized by a San Diego attorney is expressing regret.
But the San Diego attorney at the center of the case, who has also pleaded guilty, has asked not to be judged harshly by the public and insists she would never do anything that is not in the best interest of babies.
"Remember, any story can be spun and manipulated to make a story salacious," said a post by attorney Theresa Erickson on Facebook. "Yet know from the bottom of my heart that I have done the right things to protect some children from otherwise disastrous outcomes."
Meanwhile, Maryland attorney Hilary Neiman "horribly regrets getting involved in an ongoing conspiracy," said her attorney, Gregory Vega, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego. Neiman, 32, lives in Chevy Chase, Md.
According to court documents, Neiman joined the conspiracy in 2008. The same documents indicate that the plan to file phony court documents, and hoodwink couples desperate to have a baby, began in 2005.
The 43-year-old Erickson, who has an office in suburban Poway, is considered a major national figure in the area of reproductive law, with her own website and promotional videos instructing people on how she can help them adopt a child. She has made multiple appearances on national television discussing adoption law and related issues and how childless couples can become parents.
Her attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, declined to comment. Erickson has shut down her website.
The third defendant, Carla Chambers, 51, of Las Vegas, acted as a "gestational carrier" -- the legal term for a woman who agrees to receive an implanted embryo and carry the fetus to term before it is given to the "intended parents." She has also pleaded guilty.
Chambers, according to documents, was a gestational carrier on multiple occasions and helped recruit other women willing to have embryos implanted for profit.
Chambers' attorney, Michael Berg, said his client is a single mother trying to raise her three children. He added that, unlike the other two defendants, she did not participate in filing phony court documents.
"I don't think that she knew what she was getting into when she hooked up with Theresa" Erickson, Berg said.
The three defendants are set to be sentenced, separately, in San Diego federal court in coming weeks.
Erickson and Neiman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud; Chambers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make money from unlawful activity. The maximum sentence for each charge is five years in prison.
Erickson has also agreed to pay restitution in 12 cases involving a baby being "sold."
As described in court documents, the conspiracy included recruiting women to go to Ukraine to have embryos -- derived from donated sperm and eggs -- implanted. When the resulting pregnancy entered the second trimester, the attorneys would then "shop" the baby.
The prospective buyers would be falsely told that the baby had been slated to be given to another couple but that couple had reneged.
The couple -- or single individual -- receiving the baby would pay $100,000 to $150,000, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Jason Forge. The gestational carrier would receive $38,000 to $45,000, he said.
Most of the women and the couples eager for a baby were from outside California, according to court documents.
California law prohibits profiteering from the transfer of parental rights. Erickson filed fraudulent documents with San Diego County Superior Court asserting that there had been a pre-pregnancy agreement between the woman and the couple or person receiving the baby.
Such an assertion was necessary so a judge could order that the couple or individual be listed on the child's birth certificate.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Video: "The Surrogacy Lawyer," a program hosted by Theresa Erickson and shown on VoiceAmerica on Jan. 13. Credit: Legal Broadcast Network Studio / YouTube