Hilary Neiman, 32, was sentenced Thursday by a judge who condemned her for targeting couples looking to have children and dishonoring the legal profession. Neiman pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
"You preyed upon the weak. You preyed upon the desperate," said U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia.
Battaglia also ordered Neiman to seven months of home confinement and forfeit $133,000 she made for her role in the fraud, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The scheme involved paying women up to $45,000 to travel to the Ukraine for in-vitro fertilization. The babies were sold for $100,000 each to American parents, who were told they were assuming non-existent surrogate mother agreements.
State law requires such agreements to be signed before pregnancy. Otherwise, prospective parents must go through the more complicated process of adoption. California has a flourishing surrogacy market that attracts people around the globe looking to adopt through surrogacy pregnancies.
Neiman and two other women, who are awaiting sentencing, skirted the law by creating an inventory of babies, then recruiting unknowing parents to take them by saying the original intended parents had dropped out, prosecutors said.
The scheme lasted for six years, beginning in 2005, but Neiman didn't get involved until three years ago, her lawyer Joseph McMullen said. The trio got caught when some of their surrogate mothers tipped off federal investigators.
"I knew better than this," Neiman said at her sentencing. "I didn't listen to myself. And I'm sorry."