Modesto woman gets 5 years in prison for surrogacy scam
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The owner of a Modesto surrogate agency accused of a $2 million fraud scheme was sentenced in federal court Monday morning. Tonya Collins, 37, was sentenced to prison on four counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud more than 50 clients located throughout the country.
The prosecution argued Collins financially and emotionally preyed on couples' attempts to have children and those who wanted to help.
Collins refused to answer any questions as she walked out of the federal courthouse in downtown Fresno -- her family by her side. The 37-year-old was sentenced to 5 years, 3 months in federal prison for her involvement in a $2 million surrogacy scam. "It's just not fair that one person can rob that from so many. That just breaks my heart," said Beth Mardones of Chicago.
Mardones was one of those who fell victim. More than $20,000 she and her husband placed in an account through Collins' surrogate agency, SurroGenesis USA, disappeared. "Devastated. I thought this just couldn't be right because we had signed a contract. We did everything the right way," said Mardones. "I just felt that all of our hopes of having our own biological child were shattered."
According to court documents, Collins carried out the scheme from her Modesto-based surrogate agency between 2006 and 2009. Collins created a fake financial firm to hold clients' funds but instead used the trust to pay for personal expenses -- including vacations, cars and a home.
"She used false names, false identities to make it appear that they were really independent, separate employees working for this company when in fact it was her and others at her direction," said Assistant U.S. Attorney, Kirk Sherriff.
Before sentencing, Collins did express remorse, telling the judge she was sorry for the pain she caused her victims. "I'm glad she was given some jail time to think about what was done," said Mardones.
Mardones and her husband were fortunate to be able to have a child through another surrogate. But the same could not be said for other victims. "They only suffered monetary lost but for some victims, it was more than that. They lost in some cases their last chance to have a child," said Sherriff.
Collins will have to pay restitution fees to the victims she defrauded. She will begin serving her 5-year sentence June 27th.
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