From the News: UCI settles a dozen fertility suits

Re-Printed from the LA Times
By Kimi Yoshino
September 11, 2009
The UC Board of Regents has quietly settled a dozen lawsuits stemming from fertility fraud uncovered nearly 15 years ago -- drawing closer to an end a scandal that has dogged UC Irvine and left behind dozens of heartbroken couples.

Shirel and Steve Crawford recently deposited their $675,000 settlement, minus legal fees, but it brought them little peace. In the late 1980s, in the midst of what many consider the country's worst fertility scandal, the Crawfords believe their embryos were given to a woman referred to in documents as "Mrs. S." Mrs. S gave birth to a boy and a girl in two separate pregnancies while Shirel Crawford -- out of money and embryos -- never had a baby.

"I don't think it will ever be over," Shirel Crawford said. "Our children are still out there somewhere. Maybe someday they will find us."

The Crawfords' case was among a dozen settled in recent months for a total of $4.23 million. The payments ranged from $45,000 to the Crawfords' $675,000. In all, the University of California has paid out more than $24 million for 137 separate incidents in which eggs or embryos were either unaccounted for or given to other women without consent. Three cases are still pending.

The two doctors at the center of the malpractice -- Ricardo Asch and Jose Balmaceda -- fled the country and continue to evade criminal prosecution, leaving the university to deal with the civil lawsuits that followed.

The scandal first came to light in 1995 when the Orange County Register reported that the world-renowned fertility doctors at UC Irvine's Center for Reproductive Health had stolen eggs or embryos for years and had given them to other women. The revelation sparked international news coverage, investigations and state hearings and tainted the university, which whistle-blowers said had ignored early warnings and tried to cover up problems.

UC Irvine, in a statement, said, it is "honoring its commitment to treat each claim fairly and on its merits." Officials declined to comment further until the remaining claims are resolved.

"It's heartbreaking stuff, truly. There is no excuse," said attorney Dan Hodes, who represented the couples. "But at the end of the day, the regents accepted reasonable responsibility for what occurred. I'm not saying the settlements were generous. What I am saying is that they were reasonably fair and came after hard negotiations."

Though many of his clients feel a sense of vindication, Hodes said there was also a sense that the medical misconduct -- which dramatically altered some lives -- remains unpunished. "The individual doctors who the evidence suggested were most at fault got off without any recrimination at all," Hodes said.

A federal grand jury indicted both Asch and Balmaceda on mail fraud and tax evasion charges, but they have never stood trial. A third doctor, Sergio Stone, was convicted in 1997 of fraudulently billing insurance companies. He was fined $50,000 and ordered to serve a year of home detention. No evidence linked Stone to the egg thefts.

Shirel Crawford fears that settling nearly all the cases ends any interest in the matter that still brings her to tears.

Crawford is now 50, and her hopes of giving birth to a child faded long ago. Three in vitro attempts failed. Nine years ago, they tried to adopt a daughter, only to have the birth mother decide to keep the child a month after the delivery. Then, seven years ago, they adopted another daughter, Shelby, who Crawford said brings them great happiness.

But their biological children -- now adults -- who the couple believes were born to "Mrs. S" are never far from their minds.

"We had a private investigator looking for them," Crawford said.

"We've been having our attorney try to follow any paper trails any way that they could. It was a dead end. My husband always says that we could be walking down the street, see someone that looks like us and wonder, 'Could that be our child?' Will they come to our door? And our hope is someday we will be blessed with that."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.