SAN DIEGO — 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 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, 44, used her fame as a leading reproductive law specialist to win the trust of both the surrogates and intended parents, prosecutors said. The parents and surrogates were unaware of the scam, prosecutors said.
During sentencing, U.S. District 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.
Erickson cried throughout Friday's hearing and told the judge: "I truly lost my way."
Bataglia also sentenced co-defendant Carla Chambers to five months in prison and seven months of home confinement. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions derived from unlawful activity. Chambers, a former surrogate, recruited the surrogates, prosecutors said.
Both women had faced up to five years in prison.
The two worked with respected Maryland lawyer Hilary Neiman, who was sentenced in December to one year in custody that included five months in prison and the rest under home confinement. She pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Erickson built her clientele by writing books and speaking on TV about fertility issues.