Two San Diego couples who wanted to adopt a baby from a surrogate say they paid tens of thousands of dollars – and ended up childless – after working with a San Diego-based surrogacy company.
“I’m out about $130,000 and I have no baby,” said La Jolla resident Michael Bravo.
“I mean, this is just evil on another level,” he said.
The surrogacy company, which goes by the names My Donor Cycle and Surrogacy Beyond Borders, is owned by a woman named Lillian Frost, according to its website and legal filings.
“She seemed like a very knowledgeable person,” Bravo said. “She had knowledge of the surrogacy programs, how surrogacy operates, IVF. And we felt like she was the right fit.”
Bravo and his partner signed a contract with Frost in September 2019. Bravo said he was convinced by Frost’s claim of a decade of experience in the field – and by Frost’s claim that she was once a donor herself, which she repeats on the My Donor Cycle website. He said he was also swayed by the fact that Frost guaranteed that she would keep trying until the couple got their baby.
The contract called for Bravo to wire a $30,000 deposit to be put in escrow. Bravo showed NBC7 a copy of what they signed.
Bravo showed NBC7 a copy of the contract he signed with My Donor Cycle. (Elroy Spatcher / NBC7)
“I purchased two programs for $145,000, in which at the beginning I had to transfer her $30,000,” Bravo said. “And then afterwards I had to transfer $55,000.”
Bravo and his partner said they then began traveling to Mexico, where Surrogacy Beyond Borders had three clinics. The couple said they were met in Guadalajara by Diana Aguilar. He said she acted as a cycle coordinator in what he described as visits to deliver biological samples.
What started off as excitement led to frustration.
Bravo said that he became suspicious when the money he deposited into to the escrow account started to disappear early on in the process.
“It was a roller coaster, because a lot of things didn’t feel right — the fact that as soon as we sent her the money before any medical bills were due or any surrogate was confirmed the escrow was raided,” Bravo said. “She kept saying she needed more money. She [wanted] more money. And I could not understand why she had no more money.”
For a year, Bravo said, Frost’s clinic took his money and told him they were attempting pregnancies and were doing transfers of embryos.
After months of Bravo sending money and no updates, he said he confronted Frost via text message.
“Please, I don’t want to be caught up in a Ponzi scheme,” read one text shared with NBC7. “Please tell me this is not a Ponzi scheme.”
Bravo showed us Frost’s text reply: “I hope you can still trust me. I have been in business for more years than mot agencies and have never had any issues with fund management or not completing cycles.”
Messages between Bravo and Frost. (Elroy Spatcher / NBC7)
Bravo said Frost provided several excuses about why the process kept getting delayed. In a series of What’s App messages, the list of excuses included claims someone dropped acid in her drink, that she caught a stomach bug and other reasons why she was unavailable.
Bravo said he began to despair of getting a child. “You feel so alone and violated when you think you are the only person,” Bravo said.
But Bravo and his partner were not alone. Another San Diego couple, Gabrielle and Matthew Ackerman, filed a lawsuit against Frost and her company Surrogacy Beyond Borders in 2020.
In the Ackermans’ complaint, they allege that the company breached their contract by not providing surrogate mothers with adequate health care, that Frost and Surrogacy Beyond Borders failed to account for money spent out of their escrow account, and that the company claimed, incorrectly, that surrogacy was legal in the parts of Mexico where they were doing business.
The Ackermans are asking the court to award them over $80,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. The case is set to begin on September 16.
The FBI confirmed it is now investigating Lillian Frost and her various companies. The bureau said they could not comment any further, due to their ongoing investigation. Bravo also filed a complaint with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
Neither Frost, nor her companies, have been charged with any crime.
NBC 7 reached out to Frost and her lawyer but did not get a response. Frost told the Los Angeles Times, however, that she wanted to help couples, but found the business to be too challenging especially during pandemic travel restrictions.
Surrogacy experts recommend families who choose to go through this process hire a knowledgeable attorney. And there are plenty of families who are looking.
Dr. Helen Paige Anglin, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Kaiser Permanente, said about one in eight couples that will experience infertility.
Dr. Anglin said the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology offers a public database of outcomes and success rates from IVF centers.
“It’s a clinical database where really any IVF center who is legitimate and who is practicing by up to date clinical and laboratory guidelines will report all of their IVF outcomes,” she said.
Dr. Helen Paige Anglin, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Kaiser Permanente shares how there is about one in eight couples that experience infertility.
Dr. Anglin also recommends going through a physician that can recommend agencies they have worked with as well as attorneys to represent both the patient and gestational carrier.
Bravo said he has learned from his mistakes and he and his partner are now using a reputable surrogacy agency.
“You see yourself with the baby room and the carriage and family and you just have so much love,” Bravo said. “For it all to be exploited and for a person utilizing that and to take money from you, it made me think if I really wanted this.”