Kiwi woman Carla Lee Chambers is in an United States jail for her role in an international baby-farming ring.
But this is not the first time the former Lower Hutt resident has been prosecuted for involvement in baby trading. In 2000, she was convicted of fraud in Wellington District Court for her part in running a New Zealand surrogacy ring.
In the latest case, the 51-year-old was charged, with two other women, after an extensive investigation by the FBI. Her co-offenders – two high-profile US lawyers – were jailed for fraud.
US prosecutors said the women enticed couples into a complicated "baby-selling scheme" with promises of genetically desirable babies from anonymous donors.
"They were criminals that were creating human life for sale," surrogacy lawyer Andrew Vorzimer said.
"Many people consider this to be a surrogacy arrangement gone awry. But this was not surrogacy in any shape or form. They attempted to create the most marketable baby available, which was blond hair, blue-eyed baby, while simultaneously pulling on the heartstrings of intended parents."
A sister-in-law of Chambers, who lives in the Hutt Valley, said last night that family members were disgusted by her actions. "She was married to my brother and this is a terrible situation."
The FBI began investigating the case after complaints from several of the surrogates.
Chambers and one of her co-accused were tasked with recruiting women to act as surrogates, who would then travel to Ukraine to be implanted with donated sperm and eggs. Those who completed the pregnancy would be paid sums of more than $40,000.
When the surrogates' pregnancies had reached the 12-week mark, the women would offer up their babies to US parents desperate to adopt.
The prospective parents were told that previously organised surrogacy arrangements had fallen through and that they could have the child for around $180,000. The scam reportedly netted the women millions.
Prosecutors said Chambers and one of her co-accused – prominent US lawyer Theresa Erickson – had devised the scheme as far back as 2005.
In August last year, Chambers pleaded guilty in a San Diego court to a charge of "monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity".
She was sentenced last month to five months in a federal jail and seven months' home confinement, The LA Times reported. She had faced up to five years' imprisonment.
In 2000, Chambers, who was then living in Avalon, Lower Hutt, was found guilty of seven charges of fraud relating to her setting up a surrogate mother scheme here in New Zealand. She was not charged directly for operating a surrogacy operation as it was not illegal under New Zealand law.
Chambers advertised for New Zealand women to be artificially inseminated, placing ads in The Evening Post and Little Treasures magazine.
During the hearing, Crown prosecutor Grant Burston said the case was about how she had gone about the surrogacy scheme, giving fertility drugs meant for herself to other women and using a Medlab form to obtain a test for one of her surrogates.
Mr Burston said American couples would pay $40,000 for a child, and the surrogates were told they would get about $10,000. She had a stable of sperm donors.
NZ SURROGATE LAID COMPLAINT OVER CHAMBERS
In 1998, a New Zealand woman who acted as a surrogate for Carla Chambers and was going to sell her baby, spoke out.
The woman, known as Racheal, said she answered an advertisement in The Evening Post in 1996 to become a surrogate mother.
She had already had two sons adopted out and wanted to help other couples.
"I had been wanting to do surrogacy for a while. She [Carla Chambers] rang me two days later. I thought she was the wife. I didn't realise she was a go-between."
Chambers told her the baby would be adopted by an American couple. Racheal was to be paid $10,000 and travel to the US, all expenses paid, to have the baby.
It took her seven months to get pregnant, during which she said she was given fertility drugs by Chambers that caused problems for her. "After about two months into the pregnancy I decided not to go ahead with it. It didn't matter about the money. I just said, 'no, I can't do this'."
Racheal laid a complaint with police against Chambers while pregnant. "I felt what was going on was wrong. From my perspective, helping people adopt out, and in, is not wrong but her way of making babies for sale is not right."
Racheal knew of about six surrogate mothers who had been involved with Chambers. A friend, who was already pregnant, had given her baby up for adoption to an American couple and been paid $8000.
"If [Chambers] wasn't getting paid for it and only helping those that wanted to be helped [it would be fine] but because it's a business to her ... I think she has to be stopped."