Woman sentenced to prison in surrogate parenting scheme
A former Modesto woman who was convicted of defrauding aspiring parents and surrogates of nearly $2.5 million was sentenced Tuesday to more than five years in prison, federal prosecutors said.
Tonya Ann Collins, 37, was also ordered to pay restitution to her victims and a forfeiture judgement to the United States, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Fresno.
Collins pleaded guilty in February to four felony counts of wire fraud in connection with the scheme, which was carried out through her agency, Surrogenesis, and her escrow company, the Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding Group.
Surrogenesis billed itself as an agency that helped people have children through “third-party assisted reproduction,” federal prosecutors said. The escrow company would collect clients’ funds and dole the money out for surrogacy-related expenses, such as medical costs.
Prosecutors said Collins would direct Surrogenesis clients to the escrow company without revealing that she was the owner, and created fictitious employees to make it appear legitimate.
She was accused of using both companies’ accounts for personal purchases, including cars, homes, jewelry, clothing and vacations for herself and others. Prosecutors said she did not have clients’ consent and dipped into client trust funds in the Michael Charles accounts.
As a result, prosecutors said, various surrogacy-related expenses weren’t covered by the companies. Clients, surrogates and businesses lost more than $2.4 million, officials said.
“Tonya Collins orchestrated a cruel fraud, the effects of which are still being felt by the victims,” U.S. Atty. Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statement. “She not only stole victims’ funds from their escrow accounts, but in many cases caused other injuries to victims, permanently foreclosing certain victims’ ability to proceed with a surrogate pregnancy for which they had planned for many years.”
Collins was ordered to begin serving her sentence June 27. A hearing was scheduled for June 29 to determine restitution amounts she must pay each victim.
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