'Baby-selling' case focuses on well-known San Diego attorney
San Diego attorney Theresa Erickson worked hard at becoming a national leader in the complex, competitive legal specialty of helping couples become parents by adoption, surrogacy or the transfer of parental rights. Rivals and friends say that she was proud of being seen as a hard-charger.
Erickson frequently appeared on TV, and was interviewed on "Nightline," "The Today Show," and the Bill O’Reilly and Greta van Susteren shows.
She published a book, “Assisted Reproduction: the Complete Guide to Having a Baby With the Help of a Third Party.” To boost her practice, she had websites and videos and hired a publicist.
But with success came rumors that Erickson was doing something wrong and was under investigation.
“There’s been a lot of gossip about Theresa for a while,” said Pamela Madsen, founder of the American Fertility Assn., now a fertility coach in New York. “I did not believe the gossip but now we found out it’s a lot worse than we were led to believe.”
Last week, those rumors took on reality as Erickson pleaded guilty to fraud in San Diego federal court in what federal prosecutors call a baby-selling ring with national and international aspects. A Maryland attorney and a Las Vegas woman who recruited surrogates to have babies also pleaded guilty.
According to prosecutors, Erickson’s credibility and media-burnished reputation were key to finding women willing to act as surrogates for embryos from donors.
When the baby was born, Erickson and a co-defendant would “shop” the infant for $100,000 to $150,000 -- in violation of federal law. Federal prosecutors have located a dozen babies sold in this manner.
Erickson could face five years in prison for filing false documents in San Diego County Superior Court alleging that the “gestational carrier” and the “intended parents” had a pre-pregnancy agreement.
“Because of how hard she worked to promote herself, she alienated a lot of people in the [reproductive] community,” said Darlene Pinkerton, co-owner of A Perfect Match, based in La Mesa.
In media interviews Erickson, 43, a graduate of the University of San Diego law school, often mentioned personal experiences: her experience as an egg donor and the fact that her sister was unable to complete a pregnancy.
She was known for telling clients that she would let nothing stand in the way of them getting a child. In a move that raised eyebrows in the conservative legal community of San Diego, she also appeared on a Facebook page brandishing a rifle.
She taught an online course:,“Creating a Niche Practice In Reproductive Law,” and served on the boards of directors of two nonprofit agencies involving adoptions and surrogates.
Recently, she had sought to expand her business by advertising appeals to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community. With gay marriage becoming more widespread, Erickson wanted to be the leader in finding babies for newly married gay couples.
“The gay market is going to be huge and Theresa wanted to be a large part of it,” Madsen said.
On a Facebook posting after her guilty plea, Erickson asked that people not judge her harshly until all the facts of the case are known.
“I always thought of her as someone who believed in justice and protecting parents,” Pinkerton said.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Theresa Erickson. Credit: Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune