Tara Lynn Lee, a resident of New Haven, Michigan, and the owner of Always Hope Adoption Agency, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after defrauding 160 families who had gone to her in hopes of becoming parents.
The judge told her in the courtroom that he would sentence her to life if he had the power to do so.
From the beginning, it seemed Lee's adoption agency was overcome with bad luck. Surrogate mothers miscarried, moms who planned to give up their babies for adoption kept them, and others were simply no-shows.
But as it turns out, these tragic cases were all cover stories for a fraudulent adoption agency that never had any babies to provide to hopeful families to begin with.
From 2014 to 2018, the court showed that Lee had received more than $2.1 million from hopeful families. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is expected to return $1 million of fraudulent funds.
Lee found most of the parents she worked with through support groups on Facebook that were focused on trying to conceive or looking at other methods to have a child.
U.S. Attorney, Matthew Schneider, said of Lee's behavior:
"[This is a] twisted and sick deceit of innocent people."
Surprisingly, Lee was held accountable only after three hopeful mothers sought justice against what they assumed to be fraud.
The three mothers, Julie Faulkenberry, Cortney Edmond, and Amber Morey, each gave Lee tens of thousands of dollars in an effort to adopt children, each of which had a tragic or strange explanation as to why they never met their new babies.
You can watch more about many hopeful parents involved here:
In Faulkenberry's case, she gave Lee more then $20,000 to adopt a child, who she was later told had significant genetic abnormalities and died within 45 minutes of being born.
Faulkenberry began to catch on to Lee and her adoption agency when she asked for mementos of the lost child, including a copy of his birth certificate, when ten months had gone by without a reply.
Even more red flags arose when she received a partial refund for her experience, for $9,000, from a different adoption agency, called TL Adoption Agency.
"I realized that she was starting another adoption service. At that point the check felt like blood money; I wondered who paid her so she could pay us back."
Edmond and her husband gave more than $13,000 to Lee after paying an initial fee of $9,000 and covering random expenses, like groceries, over the next several months.
Finally, Morey attempted two adoptions with Lee, giving $11,000 for the first and $13,000 for the second.
In her situation, the birth mother was real and decided to keep her baby. In response, Lee threw her out of the apartment Morey had paid rent for.
The three women, after hearing each other's stories, began to seek out other hopeful families that had worked with Lee's adoption agency, wondering if they would discover more stories like their own.
When they finally connected with someone who had previously been with the FBI, they quickly were in contact with a lawyer, and continued to look for more victims to Lee's crimes.
It was eventually discovered that Lee was hoarding expensive items in her home, including Louis Vuitton bags and Cartier watches.
Onlookers on Twitter were disgusted by Lee's behavior.
Some of the families admitted to finding comfort in the judge's sentiments and believed they could now begin to seek closure for their heartache.