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San Diego-area attorney sentenced in 'baby selling' scheme

Reporting from San Diego -- An attorney who once was prominent in adoption circles was sentenced Friday to five months in federal custody and nine months of home confinement for her guilty plea in what prosecutors called an international "baby-selling" ring.

Theresa Erickson, whose law firm was in Poway, had pleaded guilty to wire fraud for her role in a scheme that involved hiring surrogates to carry embryos to term and then arranging for the infants to be adopted. The "intended parents" often paid more than $100,000, according to the plea bargain signed by Erickson.

The judge also ordered Erickson to pay a $70,000 fine. Erickson could have faced a maximum five years in prison.

"Out of sheer greed Erickson preyed upon people's most basic need: to raise a child," said U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy. "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."

At the same hearing before U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia, one of Erickson's co-defendants, Carla Chambers of Las Vegas, was sentenced to five months in federal custody and seven months of home confinement.

A third defendant, Baltimore attorney Hilary Neiman, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced in December to five months in custody and seven months of home confinement. She is now at the federal prison for women in Lexington, Ky., a minimum-security facility.

The scheme violated laws requiring an agreement between surrogates and "intended parents" before an embryo is implanted, prosecutors said. Instead, Erickson created an "inventory" of babies that she could then "sell" to clients, prosecutors said.

Chambers had pleaded guilty to receiving money from an illegal enterprise. Her role was to find surrogates, according to her plea bargain.

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