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Feds: Tara Lee spent $372K on luxury goods in adoption fraud scheme

Prosecutors say she 'broke her victims' hearts'
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Posted at 1:41 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 16:01:06-05

(WXYZ) — Piles of pricey jewelry, watches, and luxury brand eye glasses: That’s what FBI agents found when they searched Tara Lynn Lee’s home. Federal prosecutors are revealing new details in their sentencing memorandum, as they urge a judge to sentence the Macomb County mother to 10 years in prison.

The 7 Investigators first exposed Lee back in 2017. The 38-year-old pleaded guilty to counts of wire fraud as part of an adoption fraud scheme. Lee acknowledged in her plea that she made up fake birth mothers, told adoptive couples that babies died when they never existed and double-matched couples with the same birth moms. As part of her plea deal, she’s facing 8-10 years behind bars.

The feds now say Lee took in $2.1 million since 2014. They say her “luxury expenditures” totaled $372,892.63, including $44,065.03 spent at Louis Vuitton, $42,705.91 spent at David Yurman, and $34,899.44 spent at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Judge Bernard A. Friedman will sentence Lee on Wednesday. The U.S. Probation Department is recommending restitution in the amount of $1,005,398.78.

Lee’s lawyers argue for leniency in their sentencing memorandum, saying Lee “has been a hard-working and dedicated member of society for most of her adult life.”

They included dozens of letters of support for Lee from birth mothers, friends, and pastors. Many of the letters are dated from 2018 and January 2019. Attorney Paul Stablein writes, “her involvement in this case appears to be an aberration from what, by all accounts, was a sincere desire to help women and children who are in need.”

But the feds disagree. Asst. U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said “Lee ruthlessly exploited the hopes and dreams of adoptive parents for her own financial gain… she claimed to be a licensed social worker, doula, adoption agency and therapist. She was none of those things; instead, she was a scam artist.”

Woodward said Lee did more than steal money, “she broke her victims’ hearts, over and over again.”

Dozens of victims who were promised babies – that often didn’t exist – provided letters to the judge, including one that said “Lee has stolen our souls.”

These new court records show the extent of Lee’s alleged scheme: “the FBI investigation identified over 160 adoptive couples and 70 birthmothers in 24 states that worked with Lee.”

It’s expected that many of those adoptive parents will address the court during Lee’s sentencing on Wednesday.