Former Colleyville resident pleads guilty to wire fraud

Posted Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FRESNO, Calif. -- A woman who ran a Modesto surrogacy agency has pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud after bilking would-be parents out of millions of dollars, authorities said.

Tonya Ann Collins, 37, who lived in Colleyville during some of the time she ran the agency, pleaded guilty in federal court, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said.

She could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in May.

Court documents show that from November 2006 through March 2009, Collins carried out a scheme to defraud prospective parents, surrogates and banks through her company, SurroGenesis, and the associated Michael Charles Independent Financial Holding Group.

Victims from as far away as Germany lost money, some of them their life savings. Many went into debt to finance their dream of having children.

Patrick Johnson is one of those.

"I was single and I wanted to have a kid," said Johnson, who lived in Hughson in 2009 when he started working with SurroGenesis. "She took $93,000 from me, and she spent it like she was on holiday."

Collins, Johnson said, painted a picture of a successful company. The website featured testimonials from happy new parents and claimed to have offices worldwide.

Andrew Vorzimer, a reproductive-law attorney who represents some plaintiffs in lawsuits against Collins and the defunct SurroGenesis, said last spring, "If you went to Google Earth and punched in the address, it would come up a pasture in Colorado or a gas station."

Vorzimer could not be reached for comment this week. The lawsuits are on hold pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

Authorities arrested Collins on April 20 at her home in Antelope, in Sacramento County.

Collins, her husband and their seven children moved from California to Colleyville in 2008 and lived in a sprawling two-story home on Pool Road. She eventually returned to California. Authorities say Collins steered her clients to Michael Charles Independent Financial, which was purported to be a personal-property escrow company that would hold clients' money in trust and pay the costs associated with surrogacy.

Collins owned the company, but she hid that from clients by creating fictitious employee identities to make it look like an independent company with its own staff, prosecutors said.

According to the plea agreement, Collins used the SurroGenesis and Michael Charles accounts for personal purchases of automobiles, homes, jewelry, clothing, and vacations. Authorities said victims lost more than $2 million.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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