Theresa Erickson was sentenced to 5-months in federal prison. She tells NBC 7's Rory Devine the hardest thing about being convicted in an international black market baby selling ring was to look victims in the eye and hear their stories.
The woman convicted and sentenced for her role in a baby-selling ring said there need to be changes in the surrogacy industry and in state law to avoid similar illegal operations in the future.
Erickson, who is now headed to federal prison, called herself the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to people abusing the system.
The Poway resident will spend five months in prison and nine months in home confinement for her role in the operation that sent would-be surrogates to the Ukraine to receive embryo transfers.
Once the women reached their second trimester, the attorneys then sold the unborn baby to unsuspecting parent claiming a prior surrogacy agreement had fallen through.
Under California law, surrogates must enter the agreement before the embryonic transfer.
The women then submitted court documents claiming the surrogacies were legitimate.
After the papers were filed, Erickson would add the names of the parents who had purchased the child.
The group made $400,000 in profit from the sale of parental rights prosecutors said. Erickson estimated she profited about $70,000 over the course of six years.
In an exclusive interview with NBCSanDiego, Erickson said she has disgraced her profession and her family and broke an oath she vowed she would never, ever violate.
However, she believes the alternative family building process is confusing to many.
“Legal has not caught up with medicine and medicine has created this technology that the law hasn’t kept up with,” Erickson said referring to the surrogacy industry as the “Wild, Wild West.”
Erickson, who closed her practice and resigned from the legal profession, said she would like to see a change in state law and new guidelines put in place.
“The industry has tried to do it for years and the industry hasn’t done much of anything and it needs to be done,” she told NBCSanDiego.
She believes people in the industry initially get involved to help people. She herself was a donor and had infertility within her own family. Ultimately though, she said there is the temptation of money.
“They want things to stay the way they are because of the money but it just can’t stay the way they are, it just can’t,” she said.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy released this statement regarding Erickson’s sentencing:
“The surrogacy laws were enacted to protect both unborn babies and parents seeking children. Erickson abused her position as a trusted legal advisor and officer of the court by circumventing the law and undermining the rights of children and intended parents. Out of sheer greed Erickson preyed upon people’s most basic need: to raise a child. We cannot and will not allow individuals like Erickson to profit by taking advantage of vulnerable people who have a sincere desire to lawfully adopt and parent children.”
Erickson, who practiced law for a decade, regrets losing her law license.
She put herself through law school raising her two children with a husband in the military.
She said her law license may be reinstated depending on a decision from the state bar.
However, Erickson said the most difficult realization for her was the damage she did to the victims in the case.
"That was truly the hardest, and I mean that from my heart," she said.
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