Surrogacy swindle nets 5-year term

etracy@modbee.comMay 13, 2013 

US NEWS FAM-SURROGATES 2 FT

Tonya Collins, owner of SurroGenesis, a California-based company that connected would-be parents with surrogates and egg donors, works at her office with her adopted daughter Siobhan. (Courtesy Jack Kiserow/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

COURTESY JACK KISEROW — MCT

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    Erin Tracy
    Title: Breaking news reporter
    Coverage areas: Breaking news, crime
    Bio: Erin Tracy started working for The Bee in September 2010. She has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University and previously worked at the Daily Democrat in Woodland and the Times-Standard in Eureka.
    Recent stories written by Erin
    On Twitter: @ModestoBeeCrime
    E-mail: etracy@modbee.com

— A woman who ran a Modesto surrogacy agency was sentenced Monday to five years and three months in prison for a fraud scheme she carried out through her agency, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

In February, Tonya Ann Collins, 37, pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud after cheating would-be parents out of more than $2 million.

Collins was ordered to pay restitution to the victims and to pay a forfeiture judgment to the United States.

One of those victims is Patrick Johnson, who said Collins took $93,000 from him in 2009 — a debt he will continue to pay for the next 10 years.

"She'll be out of jail. I will be still be paying that off," Johnson said Monday.

He said he was disappointed with the sentence, which he'd hoped would be closer to the maximum of 20 years in prison.

"It's a shame," Johnson said. "She is the type of person that is such a swindler, she'd make you happy to pull your grandmother's gold teeth out to give them to her. For the sake of society, she needs to be put away for a long time."

Court documents show that from November 2006 through March 2009, Collins carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates and banks through her company, SurroGenesis, and the associated Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding Group.

Authorities said Collins steered her clients to Michael Charles Independent Financial, which was purported to be a personal property escrow company that would hold clients' funds in trust and pay surrogacy fees, medical fees and costs associated with the surrogacy process.

But Collins owned Michael Charles, which she concealed from clients by creating fictitious employee identities to make it appear as if it were an independent company with its own staff, prosecutors said.

"I started noticing something was funny when I was transferring money," Johnson said in an interview in February. "One of the voices sounded real familiar."

Court documents show that Collins used the SurroGenesis and Michael Charles accounts for unauthorized personal purchases, including automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing and vacations for herself and others.

As a result, SurroGenesis and Michael Charles suffered substantial cash flow problems; various surrogate mother fees and related surrogacy expenses were not paid by the companies as required.

Collins was ordered to begin serving her sentence June 27. A hearing is scheduled July 29 to determine the restitution amounts due to each victim and the total amount subject to the forfeiture order.

Johnson said a civil lawsuit by some defendants was dropped recently because the attorney fees were more than most could afford, considering their debt.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.

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