The first criminal charges have been brought in a fertility clinic scandal that rocked the University of California's Irvine campus and now threatens the university with a string of costly lawsuits.
Sergio Stone, one of three doctors tied to the theft of human eggs and embryos, was indicted by a Grand Jury on charges of mail fraud. Dr Stone and his colleagues have been accused of stealing eggs and embryos from patients during routine procedures and then giving them to other women, or donating them for research, without consent.
Investigators described Dr Stone as a minor figure in the tangled affairs of the clinic, and the charges against him were not directly related to the alleged egg thefts. But other indictments could follow, particularly if prosecutors should persuade him to testify against his two colleagues, Ricardo Asch and Jose Balmaceda, who fled to Latin America.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the UC Irvine and its centre for reproductive health, and some 60 women are described as "fertility victims". Some of those who received the unauthorised transplants went on to give birth. Damages could potentially take a large bite out of the $87 million fund the university set aside to cover its five clinics.
Though UC staff say they were not directly responsible for the running of the clinic, there are reports that university authorities were warned as early as 1992 about egg thefts.