San Diego attorney pleads guilty in 'baby-selling ring'
A prominent San Diego attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to being part of what U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy labeled a "baby-selling ring."
Theresa Erickson, a lawyer specializing in reproductive law, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for allegedly transmitting phony documents to deceive both the San Diego County Superior Court and couples seeking to become parents. Two other people in the alleged ring have also pleaded guilty.
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.
Once a woman was in the second trimester of pregnancy, she would return to San Diego and Erickson would "shop" the babies by falsely telling couples that a couple who had intended to adopt the baby had backed out of the deal. The new couple would then be charged between $100,000 and $150,000, according to prosecutors.
"These were people who desperately wanted babies," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jason A. Forge.
Court documents mention a dozen unnamed couples who received babies in this manner from Erickson and the two co-defendants. Women who agreed to carry the embryos to term were paid between $38,000 and $40,000, Forge said.
Erickson would then file documents with the court asserting that the baby was part of an existing pre-pregnancy agreement between the woman carrying the fetus and the couple -- thus allowing the couple to be listed as the parents of the child on the birth certificate.
California law, Forge said, bans profiteering on the transfer of parental rights.
The women were sent to Ukraine to have the embryos implanted because no U.S. physician would perform an implantation without documents proving that an agreement existed between the woman and what the law calls 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, 43, who has been a guest on national TV discussing reproductive law issues, is set for sentencing Oct. 28. Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of five years; under a plea agreement, Erickson has also agreed to pay restitution.
Maryland attorney Hilary Neiman, 32, is set for sentencing Oct. 14. Carla Chambers, 51, of Las Vegas, is set for sentencing Oct. 28.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego