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Accused baby scammer pleads guilty

MADISON, Wis. - A Red Wing woman who told four women that she had a baby to adopt when, in fact she didn't, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to four counts of wire fraud.

Melissa Christiansen, 31, formerly of Maiden Rock, was indicted in August with scheming to obtain an unspecified amount of money from four women by e-mailing, 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.

According to the indictment:

In September 2003, Christiansen contacted a woman in Hot Springs, Ark., and a woman in Fredericksburg, Va., about their adopting her baby. Christiansen phoned a woman in Thornton, Texas in November and December 2003, about adopting her baby and in July 2006, Christiansen emailed and phoned a Granton, Ohio woman about adoption.

Christiansen asked the women for and received money for phone bills, travel, bail and other items.

Some of the women sent Christiansen small amounts of money, $200 to $250, for bail, Altman said.

The amount of money involved is still being totaled. The victims may travel to Madison to attend Christiansen's April 1 sentencing, according to a spokesperson in the U.S. Attorney's office.

Altman declined to say how Christiansen was caught, but before she was indicted her victims appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show and explained their contacts with Christiansen. The recording of the show was evidence in the case and turned over to the defense.

Altman wouldn't comment on the evidentiary value of the women's' comments on the show, but told a reporter "it's pretty clear. You should watch it."

Christiansen moved from Maiden Rock to Red Wing this summer where she remains on bail and attends college, said her attorney, federal defender Michael Lieberman. Lieberman declined further comment Tuesday.

Christiansen's case was scheduled for trial on Feb. 9. She faces maximum statutory penalties of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, three years on probation and restitution when sentenced before District Judge Barbara Crabb.

Her actual sentence isn't expected to approach 20 years and will be based on advisory guidelines, which factor in the seriousness of the offense, the amount of time involved, the defendant's character and criminal history.