In case you didn't know, breeding is a big growth industry—especially if you flout Federal law and have access to a target demographic of desperate rich people. Some black market babies can go for as much as $180,000 or more. It's a growth industry that's not without its risks, however, as the members of an upscale baby broker ring recently discovered. This month reproductive lawyer Theresa Erickson pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with running a baby ring that charged over $100,000 per baby. Among her clients was former Manhattan "society girl" Taylor Stein, who cooperated with the feds to bust the baby brokers.
Federal law requires surrogate arrangements to be finalized before pregnancy begins, not after. But that has its drawbacks; as the LA Times explains, "many infertile couples suffer enormous disappointment and financial loss trying to have children. One attempt at in vitro fertilization using a surrogate can cost $20,000 — more than double that if an egg donor is used. It often takes a few tries." As an alternative, Erickson would sell the unborn babies when the surrogate mother was 12 weeks into her pregnancy, past the point when most miscarriages happen. This also enabled baby buyers to pick the gender.
According to the FBI, Erickson and her co-conspirators would pay a surrogate mother approximately $38,000 to fly to the Ukraine and get inseminated. In vitro fertilization is cheap there, and doctors don't require a surrogacy contract before the fertilization, as they do in the U.S., according to the LA Times. Once inseminated, the women would fly back to America, the child would be sold off while still in the womb, and the birth would take place in California, one of the few states where the name of a nonbiological parent can be put on the birth certificate without a difficult adoption process.
Erickson admits telling prospective baby buyers that these already pregnant surrogates had been in signed to a legit surrogacy contract, but that the previous buyers had walked away. This made wannabe moms like Taylor Stein rationalize that they were almost doing something altruistic by taking a baby from a pregnant woman who couldn't care for it. Stein tells the Post, "Usually, they like you to cultivate a relationship. But I thought, 'You know what, she's been through a traumatic experience. She just got dumped by her intended parents,' and I just wanted to do whatever [the surrogate] wanted."
Stein was approached by the FBI two weeks before the baby was born and agreed to cooperate with the investigation, obtaining confessions on tape from the conspirators. And in a happy twist, she got to keep the baby: she flew the pregnant woman to her home and paid her health bills. Stein also traveled to the Ukraine to track down her son's donors so that he'll one day have the option of knowing who they are, and she's making a documentary about the experience, called White Collar, Black Market: the Surrogacy Loophole.
Erikson, high profile reproductive lawyer Hilary Neiman, and prodigious surrogate mom Carla Chambers, who carried a half-dozen babies for various buyers, will be sentenced in October. The FBI says they brokered baby deals with at least a dozen families before getting busted.