Woman pleads not guilty to adoption fraud
MADISON, Wis. -- A former Maiden Rock woman charged in connection with allegedly offering a non-existent baby for adoption pleaded not guilty Sept. 23 in federal court to 16 counts of wire fraud.
Melissa Christiansen, 31, now of 723 Buchanan St., Red Wing, was charged in August with scheming to obtain an unspecified amount of money from four women by emailing, instant messaging or phoning them that she was pregnant and wanted to place her infant up for adoption.
Although selling an infant is illegal, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman, the case against Christiansen is about wire fraud, which is making false representations by electronic communication in order obtain to money.
Altman declined to specify the amount of money the alleged victims gave Christiansen for expenses incurred during her supposed pregnancy, and there is no dollar threshold established in felony wire fraud statutes.
The indictment alleged that, between June 2003 and November 2006, Christiansen contacted individuals in Thornton, Tex., Hot Springs, Ark., Fredericksburg, Va., and Grafton, Ohio, about putting her baby up for adoption after the infant was born. However, the baby never existed.
In court for arraignment, Christiansen, a full-time student, agreed to allow her computer to be monitored by court pre-trial services personnel to ensure "nothing similar happens to what was alleged," Rita Rietz, a pre-trial/probation agent, told Magistrate Stephen Crocker.
After taking Christiansen's not guilty plea, Crocker continued Christensen's release on bond, restricting her travel to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Crocker also set a two-day trial beginning Feb. 9, 2009.
Altman said she would give defense attorney Michael Lieberman all the reports and video recordings the government has gathered as evidence, including Christiansen's appearance on the "Dr. Phil" talk show with three of her accusers.
If convicted, Christiansen faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, three years probation and restitution on each of the 16 counts filed against her.
After court, Altman wouldn't comment on the evidentiary value of the Dr. Phil show recording, but told a reporter, "it's pretty clear. You should watch it."
A call to Lieberman for comment on the case wasn't returned Tuesday afternoon.