A subsequent tip-off from a very disgruntled Planet Hospital client soon revealed that the Cancun dream was fast turning into a nightmare – clients fleeced out of tens of thousands of dollars each, surrogates abandoned, and a trail of unpaid bills that led all the way to Mr Rupak’s upmarket home in a well-to-do gated community in Los Angeles.
We were put in touch with Catherine Moscarello, a US citizen and former employee of Planet Hospital, who had arranged to commission her own surrogacy via Mr Rupak and Planet Hospital. Despite her best efforts to do proper due diligence, Ms Moscarello was horrified to discover she had been lied to about her own surrogate.
Catherine Moscarello, a former employee of Planet Hospital Photo: Catherine Moscarello, a former employee of Planet Hospital, said she was lied to about her own surrogate. (Foreign Correspondent)
“We were told she was a 22-year-old single mum and she had a little boy. That’s all we were told,” she said. “She was barely 18. Her son was not a boy, he was a baby. He was less than nine months old and he had breastfed for at least six of those nine months. “In addition, she had uterine cysts, which they did a procedure to remove the day before our transfer. “I feel like we wasted two embryos. She was not qualified to be a surrogate. She should have never passed screening.”
Ms Moscarello’s personal experience prompted her to take a closer look at Planet Hospital and its processes. She quickly realised that Mr Rupak was less a Walt Disney and more in the mould of fraudster Bernie Madoff. “Planet Hospital was run like a Ponzi scheme. With Rupak, it’s stall, it’s stall, stall, stall. “He just puts you off and puts you off and puts you off.”
Foreign Correspondent returned to Cancun, and as we dug deeper, a far more sinister picture emerged. The surrogacy house was padlocked and disgruntled intended parents were out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars, some with their embryos stuck in limbo. Fertility clinics, which had been employed by Mr Rupak, were refusing to release the fertilised eggs because he had apparently not paid his bills.
Foreign Correspondent spoke to Mr de Lucia back home in San Francisco, who said he had lost $US22,500. Three embryos were produced, but they are still locked away in a Cancun clinic. The clinic is refusing to release them unless Mr de Lucia pays another $US5,000 to cover some of Planet Hospital’s unpaid bills.
Mr de Lucia says he is furious with Mr Rupak. “He’s cheated too many people. [It is] one thing being cheated when you’re doing a business transaction, but a very different thing is when you’re playing with people’s feelings and dreams,” he said. “It’s really hard for a gay couple to have a kid and going through the surrogacy is a mess, and you’re playing with that.”
Adriana Rincon, one of the surrogates Foreign Correspondent first met at the Planet Hospital surrogacy house, was couch-surfing in Mexico City, all but destitute, as she grappled with the emotional fallout of having miscarried twins in Cancun. She received virtually no support when she lost the pregnancy and was clearly grieving the loss of babies she had never quite known how she would give away. To add insult to injury, Ms Rincon had been paid only a fraction of the money promised.
Foreign Correspondent traced him to California, where he was still operating out of an office in Calabasas, a celebrity enclave outside Los Angeles. He agreed to an interview to set the record straight, he said. At once charming and apologetic, Mr Rupak was still determined to put his point across. For the people he has let down, it just does not compensate for the harm he has done. “I for one believe he’s a thief. There’s no question in my mind,” Mr de Lucia said. “Everything he does is calculated to preserve his interests and if other people are injured or harmed or scarred – not a big deal, no interest.”
Mr Rupak is now being forced into bankruptcy by former clients. The FBI is also investigating Planet Hospital’s surrogacy operations. Mr Rupak admits to making bad business decisions, but nothing more.