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University of Utah fields calls about ex-con's alleged semen switching

Published January 14, 2014 8:02 pm

Crime • Couple accuses Lippert of switching his semen while he worked at fertility clinic.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The University of Utah says its investigation into an ex-convict fertility clinic worker has hit some speedbumps, chief among those being an absence of records from a private employer tied to the U.

The employee is Thomas Lippert, convicted of conspiracy in a high-profile 1975 Minnesota kidnapping case, and the clinic is Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc. (RMTI), closed since 1998.

Lippert, who died in 1999, is accused by a Texas couple of switching his semen with the husband's to father their now-21-year-old daughter.

As of midday Tuesday, 17 people had called a hotline (801-587-5852) set up by the U. to field concerns from other RMTI clients, but of those only one had merited follow-up investigation, said University spokeswoman Kathy Wilets on Tuesday. Those with suspicions can also try to reach the Texas couple through a dedicated independent website, "Was Your Child Fathered by Thomas Lippert?"

San Antonio resident Pamela Branum told The Tribune on Friday that she suspects Lippert used his position at the clinic to father other children besides her daughter, Annie, whose relation to Lippert they determined through DNA testing.

An updated statement from the U. Tuesday afternoon said, "It appears that questions surrounding this case may never be definitively answered."

The U. says it has been investigating Lippert since April and denies Branum's claim that they have been "stonewalling." Rather, they say, there's simply not much to go on. The man who ran the clinic, Ronald Urry, is long dead, and U. investigators haven't been able to track down any documents related to his work at RMTI.

Lippert was on the U.'s payroll as a part-time employee from 1988 until 1993, but he never worked on campus, Wilets said. He reported to work as a medical technologist — including preparation of semen samples — for the University's Community Laboratory adjacent to RMTI at 1121 E. 3900 South, at Millcreek's St. Mark's Hospital. The U.'s statement says that while the U. now performs criminal background checks on all employees involved in patient care, "those practices were not in place" at the time.

Accounts vary for the time frame of Lippert's employment at RMTI. His widow Jean says he was there for about nine years until the clinic's closure in 1998, but the Branums and genealogy blogger CeCe Moore reported that a Lippert cousin dated his tenure a few years earlier.

Due to the absence of records, Wilets said, the U. doesn't even know the exact nature of the school's contract with RMTI — part-owned by three U. faculty and staff members. Surviving RMTI administrators have declined requests for comment from The Tribune. Wilets stated that couples who attempted to artificially inseminate at the University Hospital have nothing to fear because those samples were prepared on-site.

The U. says it can neither confirm nor deny Branum's statement that a University employee told her Lippert — a fairly unattractive man and a felon — had been a "popular" sperm donor. "It is a standard practice nationwide to protect the privacy and identity of donors," the release said.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday, but they told The Associated Press that it didn't begin regulating human tissue until the early 2000s.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper