A woman who was convicted of taking more than $2 million from clients of her Modesto-based surrogacy agency six years ago has been arrested again. Tonya Ann Collins is accused of violating parole four months after she was released from federal prison.
U.S. Marshal's Officers on Monday arrested Collins on suspicion of violating parole. Her parole officer says Collins committed a series of violations, including driving in the Bay Area for the Lyft ride-sharing service, according to documents filed in federal court for the Eastern District of California.
Collins, 42, on Friday was being held at the Fresno County Jail.
In February 2013, Collins pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud after bilking would-be parents out of more than $2 million. Victims from as far away as Germany lost money, some of them their life savings. Many went into debt to finance their dream of having children. Authorities said Collins spent the money on automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing and vacations for herself and others At the time, she faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
But in May, 2013, she was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison. The court also ordered Collins to pay restitution to the victims and issued a forfeiture judgment to the federal government.
Federal prosecutors have said 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.
Collins lived in Modesto until 2008, when she moved to Colleyville, Texas. SurroGenesis continued to operate in Modesto; concerns were raised in 2009 by would-be parents when payments to the surrogates stopped.
The couples and surrogates the agency represented came from across California and the nation, as well as Europe and China.
Collins is scheduled to return to federal court in Fresno on Monday for a detention hearing and will remain in jail until a federal judge makes a decision on the allegations made against Collins, said Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento.
Adam Tunison, a federal probation officer, last Monday filed in court a petition for Collins' arrest, accusing her of violating her parole and being "untruthful and intentionally deceptive" since her release from prison, according to the filed court document.
Tunison wrote in the petition that Collins got a job as a driver for Lyft and intentionally failed to notify him of her her new job. He says Collins drove for Lyft frequently outside the Eastern District Court's jurisdiction, which also is a parole violation.
According to Lyft's web site, potential drivers must undergo a criminal background check for both criminal offenses and driving incidents in national and county-level databases, and, when necessary, local courthouse records. Those with a violent crime, sexual offense, disqualifying felony, disqualifying drug-related offense, disqualifying theft or property damage offense may be ineligible to drive for Lyft.
The Modesto Bee on Friday sent an e-mail to Lyft news relations representatives, asking whether it had conducted a criminal background check on Collins before hiring her. As of Friday afternoon, The Bee had not received a response.
The probation officer alleges that Collins deposited her Lyft earnings into a Wells Fargo bank account under her stepmother's name and into a prepaid Visa account. Tunison says that Collins did this to avoid wage garnishment to pay her restitution.
Collins failed to make $50 monthly payments toward the restitution in March, April and May, according to the warrant petition. Tunison says Collins also failed to submit monthly reports about her job, income and bank account usage.
She is accused of sending and receiving letters from a federal prison inmate even though she was ordered not to associate with convicted felons unless authorized by the probation officer.
The court had ordered Collins not to open additional lines of credit without approval. Tunison says Collins has used and been responsible for payments on a loan from West America Bank in the name of her stepmother.
"It is extremely clear the offender never had any intention to comply with the terms of her release," Tunison wrote in his petition to the court.