Hilary Neiman, a former lawyer from Maryland has been jailed for five months for her part in an international baby-selling ring that paid women to have babies to sell.
Hilary Neiman, 32, is one of three women who pleaded guilty to the scheme and she was sentenced on Thursday and condemned for preying on couples.
The woman was ordered by U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia to forfeit $133,000 – profits that prosecutors said she made from her role in the fraud, reports the San Diego Tribune.
Anthony Battagalia sentenced Hilary Neiman to five months in prison and another seven in home confinement. The woman had pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The judge told Hilary Neiman:
“You preyed upon the weak. You preyed upon the desperate.”
Anthony Battaglia also condemned her for betraying her position of trust as a lawyer, saying she sold her “reputation and dishonoured the practice of law”.
Hilary Neiman was charged along with Poway lawyer Theresa Erickson and Las Vegas resident Carla Chambers with running a fraud that took advantage of California’s legal framework covering surrogacy, and the desperation of couples who cannot conceive.
State law allows potential surrogates to enter into an agreement with prospective parents to take the baby and assume parental rights.
But the agreement must be made before the surrogate becomes pregnant.
After a woman is pregnant, parental rights cannot be transferred and the parties have to go through an adoption, a more complicated and time-consuming process.
In this case, prosecutors said the three women got around that restriction and created an inventory of babies, then recruited unknowing parents to take them by telling them that the original intended parents had dropped out.
They recruited women, known as “gestational carriers”, to travel to the Ukraine and undergo in vitro fertilization and become pregnant. They would be paid $38,000 to $45,000, reports The Tribune.
Once back in the U.S., Theresa Erickson and Hilary Neiman found parents and told them they could have the baby if they “assumed” the nonexistent surrogate agreements for $100,000.
The three women, who sold 12 babies, got caught when some of their surrogate mothers tipped off federal investigators.
The scheme ran from 2005 to 2011, but Hilary Neiman did not become involved until 2008, said her lawyer, Joseph McMullen.
Joseph McMullen said she got involved when Theresa Erickson and Carla Chambers duped her – asking her if she had clients who could step in and take a baby, whose bogus intended parents had changed their minds.
Hilary Neiman made the arrangements, Joseph McMullen said, believing it was true.
When Theresa Erickson kept calling with more babies in need of parents, the lawyer said, Hilary Neiman realized something was amiss but “stuck her head in the sand” and continued on.
Joseph McMullen argued Hilary Neiman did so because she was motivated to satisfy desperate clients who wanted a child.
Prosecutor Michael Merriman disagreed saying; “This was a fraud designed to make money,” and Hilary Neiman should not be seen as a victim.
Hilary Neiman told the judge she regretted what she had done.
“I knew better than this,” Hilary Neiman said, reports the Tribune.
“I didn’t listen to myself. And I’m sorry.”
Theresa Erickson and Carla Chambers will be sentenced in January.