Surrogacy scam unites Valley families

FRESNO, Calif.

While many people were scammed out of thousands of dollars, the fraud united two families, including a Fresno couple.

Katie Froman and her husband of Fresno have three children -- a blessing she said she wanted other couples to experience. So she signed up as a surrogate through SurroGenesis U.S.A. in June of 2007. Soon after, she was matched with a couple and became pregnant -- but revelations of fraud surfaced from the agency.

"We found out everything that was going on when I was 7 and a half months pregnant with twins. That's when Tonya skipped town and everything went crazy," said Katie Froman.

On Monday, Tonya Collins -- the woman behind SurroGenesis -- was sentenced to federal prison over a $2 million surrogacy scam. Court documents reveal Collins created a fake financial firm to hold clients' funds and used it for personal expenses.

Fortunately, Katie was not impacted by the fraud but the same could not be said for the more than 50 other victims. "I was just blown away that somebody could be so heartless and take something that's so important to so many people. It's not like you're stealing money, it was people's hopes and dreams that she took," said Katie.

In 2010, Katie came across the story of Beth and Marcio Mardones -- a Chicago couple scammed out of $20,000 and the chance at parenthood. "I just felt that all of our hopes of having our own biological child were shattered," said Beth Mardones.

"My heart was broken for them. I was literally crying watching their interview and I just felt like I needed to help them," said Katie. So she reached out through Facebook, offering to give birth to the couple's child without charging a surrogate fee -- an opportunity they could not pass up.

"We went through several tries but we did end up having a baby of our own. It's just a blessing," said Beth.

Their baby, Jake, is now 14 months old and is the special link that unites the two families -- who turned a tragic situation of fraud into one of hope and happiness. "Even though Tonya Collins is not a good person, and what she did was wrong, there's still people out there that do the right thing and step up when the time comes," said Jay Froman, Katie's husband.

Collins will have to pay restitution to the victims she defrauded. She will start serving her 5-year sentence on June 27th.

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