A Michigan woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday for duping dozens of couples with promises of adoption. Police found she had earned millions of dollars in the scam, which was used to fund her expensive lifestyle.
Tara Lee, 36, admitted to scamming couples interested in adoption by posing as a licensed social worker. "To gain people's trust, she claimed to be a licensed social worker, doula, adoption agency, and therapist. She was none of these things," Assistant US Attorney Sara Woodward said.
The case involved 17 couples who identified themselves as cheated by Lee, but investigators believe dozens of Lee's victims exist across the country. Investigation revealed her business Always Hope Pregnancy Center made $2.1 million from 2014 through 2018.
Expensive lifestyle by duping couples
Lee was found spending the money on leading an expensive lifestyle. Her indulgences included splurging $44,000 on Louis Vuitton wares, $35,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue, and on designer clothes, jewelry, and travel. She also spent $30,000 on upgrading her home in suburban Detroit, according to the Associated Press.
While some adoptions by her establishment were successful, couples later found the money that was given to support the women during their pregnancies never reached them. However, in maximum cases, birth mothers didn't exist.
Birth mothers 'suddenly disappear'
Devastated victims who testified against Lee said couples were often told the birth mother "suddenly disappeared" months after being advised to prepare for child care, get car seats and set up nurseries. A couple said they received an ultrasound photo by Lee only to find later that it was part of Lee's scam.
Amber Morey said she traveled to Detroit from Arizona to witness her child's birth only to be told by Lee that the birth mother had suddenly disappeared. The incident traumatized her so much that she "bawled for days" and still won't get rid of a crib.
While Lee was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison, US District Judge Bernard Friedman said her crimes deserved a life sentence. "You deserve life. You've ruined people's lives for generations," he said.