A couple who took money from three families, all of whom believed they would adopt the couple's unborn child, was sentenced Wednesday.
Third District Judge Tyrone Medley ordered Tonya Vigil to serve six months in jail while her husband, Thomas Vigil, was ordered to undergo a 90-day diagnostic evaluation at the Utah State Prison. He will be sentenced in September.Medley also ordered that more than $9,000 restitution be paid to the three families. "I'm going to hold Mrs. Vigil's feet to the fire to get these victims paid back," he said. "I'm also totally convinced the six months jail sentence is appropriate."
But the judge said the crime was more than just the money. He said the case is summarized by a letter he received from the first family to be victimized - Frank and Stephanie Elizondo of California.
"These people did more than steal our money. They stole our dreams, our hopes, our future," the couple wrote.
The Vigils told the Elizondos they wanted them to adopt their unborn child, and they gave the Vigils $4,000 for expenses and paid $2,000 in attorney fees. The Elizondos also flew to Salt Lake City to meet the Vigils, who took the California couple to the hospital and showed them the maternity ward where the child would be born. The Vigils also gave them a baby blanket and an ultrasound photo of the child they expected to adopt.
"We had one chance only financially to adopt, and we poured our heart and soul into this adoption," the Elizondos wrote. "They deliberately stole our life savings, knowing full well that we were not rich people."
The Vigils began accepting money from two other families. All three families testified they knew nothing about the other two families and fully expected the Vigils would allow them to adopt their child.
But the Vigils said they changed their minds and decided to keep their baby - a decision well within their legal rights.
But Thomas Vigil asked for more money from one couple after their baby was born. Paul Halliday Jr. said he paid them an additional $600 eight days after their baby had been born, but the couple did not tell him they had decided to keep the baby.
In April, a jury convicted Tonya and Thomas Vigil each of three counts of theft by deception.
Tonya Vigil said Wednesday she never intended to defraud anyone. "I never realized how much I hurt people. I'm realizing now, and I'm sorry," she said.
The 33-year-old told the judge she has two infants at home she needs to care for and just became a grandmother on Monday. She asked Medley to allow her to stay home and also care for the new mother, her teenage daughter. "I want her to have a better future than what I did," she said.
Defense attorney Ken Brown said if his client had money, this case would never have been charged. "Poor people are very vulnerable to situations where they can be involved in an effort to sell their child, basically," he said.
Medley also ordered Tonya Vigil to perform 300 hours of community service, obtain counseling, a mental health evaluation and obtain full-time employment. He said it is not unreasonable to expect her to work a full-time and a part-time job and called on her family to assist with caring for her small children.
Prosecutor Ernie Jones asked Medley to follow Adult Probation and Parole's recommendation that Thomas Vigil be sentenced to prison because he is "probably the more culpable of the two."
Medley said Thomas Vigil probably deserves a stiffer sentence than his wife but ordered the diagnostic evaluation to learn more about his prior criminal record, substance abuse problems and psychological profile. He ordered Thomas Vigil to return Sept. 19 for sentencing.