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Evaluators urged oversight of ex-con accused of semen switch

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Thomas R. Lippert

By Matthew Piper | The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 22 2014 10:13AM
Updated Jan 24, 2014 07:43PM

Employment records reveal that more oversight was urged for Thomas Lippert, accused of illicitly using his own semen to father a 21-year-old Texas woman at a Millcreek fertility clinic.

At a news conference Wednesday, the U. conceded existence of such records and also clarified its relationship with Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc., where 21-year-old Annie Branum’s parents went for artificial insemination treatments in 1991. The lab not only shared a location with the U.’s Community Laboratory, but supervisors and staff. That may help explain why San Antonio’s Pamela Branum believed that she and her husband John had visited a U. clinic, as well as the U.’s decision to take on the investigation.

"Understandably, they might well have appeared to be one entity," a U. news release said. "This overlap has made it difficult to piece together who had oversight of various activities, and who was ultimately accountable."

Both labs employed Lippert, now dead, despite his 1975 conviction for conspiracy in what was dubbed "the love experiment." RMTI’s principal, Ronald Urry, is also dead, and the lab closed in early 1998. Lippert’s exact period of employment at the lab is still unknown, but his widow earlier told The Tribune that she believed he worked there from 1989 to 1998.

Sean Mulvihill, chief executive officer of the University of Utah Medical Group, estimates Lippert may have been involved with treatment of about 1,000 clients, but that only 15 have called the U.’s Andrology Lab and none have yet undergone follow-up paternity tests. "A couple families" may choose to have paternity testing, he said.

Genealogist CeCe Moore, who has advised the Branums throughout this ordeal, says Mulvihill’s estimate strikes her as too low.

"He worked there for over 10 years, so he only had access to 100 a year? I kind of doubt that," she said, adding that additional couples have contacted the Branums through a dedicated independent website, "Was Your Child Fathered by Thomas Lippert?" and that she worries that 13 of the 15 concerned couples were somehow "ruled out" for paternity testing without cause. "I think we’re taking steps in the right direction, but I’d like to see them take more steps."

Mulvihill said the U. believes that Urry’s family destroyed all documents related to Lippert’s employment with RMTI after Urry’s death. Lippert also was employed part-time by the U. from 1988 until 1993, but the U. has not located records of his separation. The U. had previously told The Tribune that records of Lippert’s experience were scarce, but Mulvihill said Wednesday that they have recently discovered documents in storage that shed light on his work for the U.

Lippert apparently received glowing performance reviews until about 1993, Mulvihill said, at which point evaluators began to suggest more oversight for both Lippert and the clinic. Mulvihill would not explain why more oversight was suggested.

"Something happened … by 1993, or so the records suggest, that there were concerns about either his behavior or the performance in the laboratory," Mulvihill said.

The U. began investigating in April, but its probe only hit top gear in October, after RMTI’s relationship to the U. was realized, Mulvihill said. Next, a panel of three U. physicians, Thomas Miller, John Bohnsack and Jeffrey Botkin will review documents gathered from the investigation, and an independent review of the panel’s work will be conducted by medical ethicist R. Alta Charo, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Moore said she was somewhat surprised that the U. admitted what Pamela Branum had said all along — that any distinction between the two clinics was unclear to clients, and that the U. is at least somewhat to blame for Lippert’s conduct. "I think they realized that it was going to come out sooner or later, and they’d better just acknowledge it," Moore said.

The U. said it will not contact other families in whose treatments Lippert was involved — as the Branums have urged. Mulvihill said the U. hopes that the investigation will conclude within 90 days, and that the U. will then disclose its findings. The U. will not comment further until the end of the investigation, he said.

The Branums could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

Concerned patients can call a hotline at 801-587-5852, or email andrology@hsc.utah.edu.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

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