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Desperate for Children, They Were Swindled Out of $2 Million

Central Valley Business Times
February 19th, 2013

Tonya Ann Collins, 37, formerly of Modesto, has pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme she carried out through her agency, Surrogenesis USA Inc. and a related escrow company, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.

“Tanya Collins cruelly took advantage of clients who sought nothing more than to bring children into the world. Her greed left a trail of devastation, both financial and emotional, in its wake,” Mr. Wagner says.

For nearly three years, Ms. Collins, as owner of Surrogenesis and the Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding Group, carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates, and financial institutions, according to court records.

Surrogenesis was a surrogate and egg donation agency that marketed itself as assisting individuals in having children through third-party assisted reproduction. Michael Charles Independent Financial purported to be an independent personal property escrow company that would hold clients’ funds in trust and pay out those funds upon the clients’ authorization for legitimate expenses associated with the surrogacy process, such as surrogacy fees and medical costs.

Ms. Collins has admitted in her plea agreement that she steered Surrogenesis clients to Michael Charles Independent Financial but concealed her ownership and operation of the escrow company, including creating fictitious employee identities to make it appear that Michael Charles was an independent company with its own staff.

According to the plea agreement, Ms. Collins used the Surrogenesis and Michael Charles accounts for unauthorized personal purchases: automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing, and vacations for herself and others, without the clients’ knowledge or consent.

She used client trust funds in the Michael Charles accounts to directly pay for her personal purchases and also transferred client funds from the Michael Charles accounts to other bank accounts that she controlled before spending the funds, Mr. Wagner says.

As a result of her conduct, Surrogenesis and Michael Charles Independent Financial suffered substantial cash flow problems and various surrogate mother fees and related surrogacy expenses were not paid by the companies as required, court records show.

Surrogenesis and Michael Charles clients, surrogates, and financial institutions suffered losses of more than $2 million, the government says.

“Clients of Surrogenesis and Michael Charles Independent Financial confidently entrusted large sums of money in trust, believing that the expenses related to expanding their family would be paid,” says Herbert Brown, director in charge of the Sacramento Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Unfortunately, Tonya Collins’ greed has forever tarnished what should be happy memories of the arrival of children and the financial well being of her victims.”

Ms. Collins is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii on May 13 when she will face a possible maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. 

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