Modesto woman hustles $2M in surrogacy scam

FRESNO, Calif.

/*Tonya Collins*/, 37, appeared in Federal Court in downtown Fresno and pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud her clients.

Collins was silent as she shielded her face from our Action News cameras but she couldn't hide from the judicial system. The 37-year-old appeared before a federal court judge where she softly uttered the words "guilty" to four counts of wire fraud. "There were approximately $2 million in losses due to her fraud scheme to prospective parents," said Kirk Sherriff, Assistant U.S. Attorney and lead prosecutor in the case.

According to the plea agreement, Collins carried out the scheme from 2006 to 2009 to defraud prospective parents and surrogates through her agency – SurroGenesis USA Inc. Collins used to run the surrogacy firm in Modesto but in the process, she created a fake financial firm called Michael Charles Independent Financial.

"That company was supposed to be an independent trust that would hold money, funded by the prospective parents to pay for the surrogacy," said Sherriff. "Actually, Tonya Collins controlled that and used both of Michael Charles and SurroGenesis' accounts ultimately as a private bank account."

Prosecutors say instead of paying surrogates for their services and medical bills, Collins used some money from that trust to pay for personal expenses – including vacations, cars and even a home.

One of her clients who fell victim was Amanda Cram of Fresno. She spoke with Action News in 2009 after she said she was stuck with a $40,000 medical bill from complications as an egg donor. "After that, the next time I tried to get a hold of SurroGenesis, none of their numbers connected to anything anymore," said Cram in 2009.

But soon, Collins will have to face her new reality as she sits in a federal prison cell.

Collins' attorneys had no comment on the case. She will be back in court May 13th for sentencing and faces up to 20 years in prison.

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