Fertility broker harvests tears and anger

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on February 15, 2011 at 12:11 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 15 at 3:50 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Infertility.

It's a condition that fosters both frustration and shame in the couples who are affected.

And for some seeking a solution in North Texas, the trauma has been compounded by a woman whose fertility center suddenly closed — leaving recipients and donors wondering where their  money went.

Merritt Patterson is known for her whimsical observations about life in her Park Cities People blog.

But outside the media world, Patterson's is known for brokering in miracles — partnering fertile females with infertile couples through her Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas.

She says for 15 years, she has helped 1,500 couples have children.

But beginning in 2008, the complaints started building up.

One New York couple, who prefer to remain anonymous, say they were desperate for a child and paid Patterson $9,000 for fertile eggs through the Surrogate Parenting Center.

They say they were told the donor fell through and they allege that it took the threat of a lawsuit to get most — but not all — of their money refunded.

"There were constant e-mails that were never returned," said the husband. "There were constant voice messages to the firm that were never returned."

"She said a check is in the mail to your our address; we didn't even list a work address," the wife said.

Since that time, others claim they paid money to Patterson and received nothing in return.

One North Texas recipient couple recently took their story of heartbreak to small claims court in Dallas.

They say Patterson took their $8,000 last fall, then closed her business two weeks later.

When Patterson did not show up for court last week, Judge Steven Seider, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, Place 3, ruled in the couple's favor, declaring that Patterson had "converted the Plaintiff's... $8,000" and "committed fraud" in doing so.

While the couple wants their privacy protected as well, their attorney, Robin Foret, believes Patterson has taken more than money.

"What she really did to my client was specifically took advantage of a person desperate to have a child," Foret said. "She knew about that desperation, and was able to make money and profit from it."

At the same time, some donors say they were delivering healthy eggs through The Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas, but were not being paid.

One of those donors —  who also wishes to remain anonymous — says Patterson still owes her $4,500.

"These are people who went to her expecting to have their dreams fulfilled, and we expected to help people have their dreams fulfilled," said the donor. "She's just basically wrecked people's dreams."

Another egg donor who does not wish to divulge her identity says she had to fight to get partial payment after sending Patterson "hundreds of e-mails, text messages, phone calls — just begging to be paid."

The same donor says in the past few months she's networked with others who were treated the same way.

News 8 also found complaints against the Surrogate Parenting Center of Texas with the Better Business Bureau and the Texas Attorney General.

One complaint filed by a donor last year claims "she has basically stolen my body parts."

Patterson declined an on-camera interview but told News 8 by phone that she regrets her once-successful business has failed.

"I understand that people are frustrated, and I am very sorry for that," she said. "It's an industry and a business that I've loved for 15 years. I'm sad that it's closing."

Ultimately, Patterson says only a small number of people are owed money, and those will be paid in full by March 31.

"I have been in constant contact with those 10 or fewer clients," Patterson said. "I've been in constant contact with them and given them a time-line for winding down the business."

Patterson said she is not contractually obligated to pay every donor who says she still owes them money.

Among them, another couple who said Patterson had taken their $8,000 and quit corresponding with them — until News 8 got involved.

"I don't know how she sleeps at night," said the woman who sought Patterson's services. "I think she's heartless. She put up a good front, and boy, she's fooled a lot of people. But I think it's time for her to pay for what she's done."

One of the biggest problems for prospective parents and donors is this industry is unregulated.

While there are many reputable surrogacy centers that follow accepted industry guidelines, they are not licensed.

It's best to check out prospective agencies with the Better Business Bureau and the Texas Attorney General.

A good clearinghouse for all fertility issues is resolve.org.

And in the past few days, at least one of the donors and one of the intended recipients say they have received partial payment from Patterson.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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