A former Modesto business owner who was convicted in 2013 of stealing more than $2 million from clients of her surrogacy agency withdrew her petition Monday to be released from the Fresno County Jail on alleged parole violations.
Because Tonya Ann Collins, 42, declined to have a detention hearing, she will be held in jail without bail until a federal judge in Fresno determines whether she violated terms of her supervised released from federal prison.
Collins appeared in U.S. District Court wearing a green jail jumpsuit and leg irons. Fresno defense attorney Serita Rios was appointed by the court to represent Collins.
During the brief hearing, Rios and prosecutor Kirk Sherriff agreed to schedule a status hearing on July 23 to give Rios time to mount a defense to the charges. After the hearing, Rios said she was not prepared to comment on why Collins withdrew her petition, saying she had just received the investigative reports.
U. S. Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto, however, said that from reading federal probation officer Adam Tunison's report, there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Collins had violated her supervised release by taking unauthorized travel, opening up a line of credit without permission, and by writing to convicts she met in prison.
"Mr. Tunison tried to work with you and you have not been amenable to follow directions," Oberto told Collins, who remained silent throughout the hearing.
If convicted of violating her supervised release, Collins faces up to two years in prison.
The FBI said Collins operated SurroGenesis, which had marketed itself as a surrogate and egg donation agency that assisted individuals in having children through third-party assisted reproduction. Federal prosecutors contended that from November 2006 to March 2009 Collins carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates and banks through SurroGenesis and her other business, Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding group.
Instead of helping people who wanted children, authorities contend, Collins spent more than $2 million of her clients' money on cars, homes, jewelry, clothing and vacations for herself and others. Victims from far away as Germany lost money, and some lost their life savings. Many went into debt to finance their dream of having children.
In February Collins pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud. She was later sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.
She was arrested on July 2 — four months after being released from prison — when Tunison said in court documents that Collins had committed a series of violations of her release, including driving in the Bay Area for the Lyft riding-sharing service.
In court documents, Tunison accused Collins of being "untruthful and intentionally deceptive" since her release from prison.
In one alleged violation, Tunison said Collins got a job as a Lyft driver and failed to notify him of her new job. She also drove for Lyft outside the Eastern District federal court's jurisdiction, which Tunison said is another violation of her release.
Tunison also contends Collins deposited her Lyft earnings into a Wells Fargo bank account under her stepmother's name and into a prepaid Visa account. Tunison said Collins did this to avoid wage garnishment to pay her monthly restitution to victims. Collins also failed to make her $50 monthly restitution in March, April and may, according to her arrest warrant.
In addition, Tunison said Collins also failed to submit monthly reports about her job, income and bank account usage. Collins also is accused of sending and receiving letters from a federal prison inmate, even though she was ordered not to associate with convicted felons unless she had permission from Tunison.
In addition, Collins was ordered not to open lines of credit without approval. But Tunison said Collins had a loan with Westamerica Bank in the name of her stepmother.