A California attorney specializing in reproductive rights used her inside knowledge to run an elaborate baby-selling ring.
Theresa Erickson, 43, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for transmitting fake documents to the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego and falsifying information to the couples whose babies were born through surrogates she recruited.
"This case serves as a reminder to people who are desperate to have a child that you must be cautious," FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth told ABC News.
Erickson's ruse was complex, but she skirted the legal system thanks to her high-profile work.
She has appeared on national television and wrote a book called "Assisted Reproduction: The Complete Guide to Having a Baby with the Help of a Third Party."
Her two partners in the scheme, Hilary Neiman, 32, a Maryland attorney, and Carla Chambers, 51, of Las Vegas, both pleaded guilty for their roles in helping Erickson recruit women to act as surrogates. They'd travel to Ukraine, where they were implanted with donated sperm and eggs.
American doctors are required to check for documentation of a surrogacy agreement before implanting an embryo. The standards are lax in Ukraine, so Erickson sent her recruits there for the procedure.
Once the women hit the second trimester, Erickson would put the babies on the market under the false pretense that the original surrogate parents had backed out of the agreement.
She even filed fraudulent paperwork in court to back up her story.
Couples were charged between $100,000 and $150,000 for each baby. Surrogates who completed the pregnancy were paid between $38,000 and $40,000.
The FBI became involved after it received complaints from gestational carriers, said Special Agent Foxworth.
Court records detail an e-mail exchange between Chambers, who also served as a surrogate, and prospective parents. The couple wrote to Chambers suggesting they would like to take one twin, and have close friends take the other.
"Firstly, I am not opposed to it, however it does not give me the warm fuzzies," Chambers said. "My second thoughts would be, what if something goes wrong and one twin dies, there would need to be guidelines about what happens. I would of course to prefer to place together! But would be open to it."
Erickson's baby-selling ring placed a dozen babies in homes, where they will remain.
In total, she profited $70,000. It is unclear how much Chambers and Neiman received.
According to Erickson's website, she was drawn to family formation law because of her own experience.
"She initially discovered this area of family planning by choosing to become an egg donor for several couples who desperately wanted a child," her biography said, also mentioning her sister's struggles with infertility.
It is unclear whether Erickson has children of her own.
Her attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, had no comment on the case.
Erickson will be sentenced on Oct. 28 and faces up to five years in prison.
Along with a $250,000 federal fine, she was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to each of the 12 families.