Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The founder of a San Diego-based medical tourism company was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he stole more than $2 million from infertile clients who sought his help in finding surrogacy services, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Acharayya Rupak, a Canadian national living in Calabasas, acted as a broker between his Planet Hospital clients and Mexican clinics that provide egg donors, in vitro fertilization and surrogates, according to prosecutors.

According to the indictment, Rupak, 48, pocketed money from American clients that he was supposed to use to pay the clinics for various surrogacy services. The clinics didn’t get their money, and the clients never received the services, the indictment alleges.

“People who seek the help of a surrogate are on an exhausting, expensive and emotional journey,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “They shouldn’t have their dream to have a child trampled by someone they trust to help them.”

Rupak, who made his first court appearance Tuesday, had his bail set at $50,000 and was ordered to return to court July 25.

Medical tourism companies like Planet Hospital facilitate travel to foreign countries to undergo medical procedures such as gastric bypass, organ transplants, tummy tucks or hip replacements at a more affordable price, prosecutors said.

In this case, Rupak acted as an intermediary, connecting U.S. clients with egg donors and in vitro fertilization clinics and surrogates in Mexico. Rupak’s medical tourism business had addresses in San Diego, Calabasas and Calexico.

In 2008, Rupak began offering international surrogacy services, which is the practice of paying a woman to have an embryo transferred to her womb and bear the child for someone else. Beginning in September 2009 and continuing until at least January 2014, Rupak solicited international surrogacy clients, luring them with promises of discounted prices and then hitting them with additional fees later, prosecutors said. He allegedly convinced the clients to send him thousands of dollars by falsely representing that their funds would be put into escrow accounts and used only to pay for medical services.

But according to the indictment, Rupak failed to forward the clients’ funds to service providers such as egg donor companies, IVF clinics and surrogacy services. These companies would then demand additional funds from Rupak’s clients, who had already paid for the services.

To cover up the theft, Rupak allegedly created unauthorized websites and email addresses in the name of a clinic and its physician in order to send emails to Planet Hospital clients, giving excuses for why Planet Hospital had not provided promised services or falsely claiming that surrogacy procedures were unsuccessful.

Rupak lied to his clients about success rates and falsely claimed ownership interest in two IVF clinics in Cancun, Mexico, according to the indictment.

Once the deception started snowballing, Rupak operated his business like a Ponzi scheme, using funds from new clients to pay for services provided to existing Planet Hospital clients, prosecutors allege.

–City News Service