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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah family participating in DNA testing as part of its family history research made a disturbing discovery.
The family, who asked that their names not be used, found out that their 21-year-old daughter's DNA did not match that of her father, which was confirmed by a paternity test, according to CeCe Moore, a professional genetic genealogist.
"Right away, because (the parents) had used artificial insemination to conceive … they realized there could be a problem," said Moore.
She said the family approached her in October of 2012 because of her genealogy blog called Your Genetic Genealogist and because she volunteered at a company they used to test their DNA.
After testing through two more DNA databases, the family located the daughter's first cousin once removed, who said that her cousin Tom Lippert had worked at Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc., where the husband and wife had received their treatment, according to Moore. She said he also told his family that he was a sperm donor.
The cousin sent them a picture of Lippert, who died in 1999, and the mother immediately recognized the man as someone who had worked at the clinic, according to Moore.
When the mother met him in 1991, Moore said she recalled dozens of pictures of babies were posted around his desk, and he bragged about the families he helped conceive, the mother said. She told Moore that, at the time, it gave her hope that she, too, would conceive.
Now, Moore is concerned that there may be more children fathered by Lippert in the Salt Lake City area, and she's created the blog lippertschildren.blogspot.com to help those who may have been victimized.
"If he did this once, how many other times might he have done it?" Moore asked.
Because Lippert is deceased, there is no way to prove whether it was an accident or if Lippert intentionally used his own sample.
According to Moore, Lippert's own history as a convicted felon speaks for itself. He was convicted of kidnapping a woman, keeping her in a black box and making her undergo electric-shock treatment to get her to fall in love with him, according to People magazine.
The University of Utah, which contracted with the no-longer-existing Reproductive Medical Technologies, responded to Moore's and the family's concerns Thursday.
University officials confirmed that Lippert was an employee of Reproductive Medical Technologies. He was a part-time employee of the University of Utah from 1988 to 1994. The mother told the university that Lippert prepared her husband's artificial insemination sample.
However, the lack of remaining records and Lippert's death prevented the university from confirming any other possible cases.
"We understand this information has been upsetting for the family and other clients of (Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc.). We want to help alleviate this distress by providing professional genetic testing for RMTI clients who were treated between 1988 through 1994," Kathy Wilets, associate director for health sciences media relations and public affairs, said in a statement.
Concerned individuals should contact the University of Utah andrology lab at 801-587-5852.
The University of Utah also provided a video on its andrology website with information on its assisted reproduction practices.
The case seems to be reminiscent of that of Cecil Jacobson, a Utahn who was imprisoned for substituting his own sperm for that of donors.
Jacobson was convicted in 1992 on 52 fraud and perjury counts for lying about pregnancies, misreading sonograms and using his own sperm to impregnate up to 75 patients in Vienna, Va.
Jacobson said he believed he did nothing wrong but thought he was helping the patients.
Despite the mixup, Moore described the family's daughter as a "very well-rounded, stable individual."
"She's had great parents," she said. "In this case, nurture triumphed over nature, and/or she got the best genes of the bunch."
There are ways to tell which reproduction assistance clinics are most trustworthy, according to Christine Briton-Jones, lab director at the Utah Fertility Center in Pleasant Grove.
Labs that are accredited by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies are subject to federal oversight and inspected every two years, she said.
In order to qualify, the labs need to be certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act, which requires all lab employees to go through a background check and have their education verified, Briton-Jones said.
All specimens are documented, monitored by at least two people and have at least two pieces of unique identification, usually a name and a date of birth, she said.
"It’s not illegal for a reproductive medicine lab or clinic to not be registered with CLIA and have inspections," Briton-Jones said.
But to submit their results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and be certified with the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies, they need to be in compliance with the requirements, she said.
Those considering reproductive assistance can check whether a clinic is certified by the society by searching SART's website.
Another best practice is to make sure the lab director of the clinic is qualified, which means they would either have a doctorate in andrology and a high complexity lab director certification, or they are a medical doctor, Briton-Jones said.
The lab should also be accredited by the Joint Commission or College of American Pathologists, she said.
Finally, potential clients should ask how many people are working in the lab, Briton-Jones said. If there is just one person, that may be a red flag because they do not have another person to keep them accountable, she said.
Contributing: Peter Samore and Mike Anderson