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A couple think a convicted felon working at a Utah fertility clinic knowingly used his own semen to father their daughter and possibly other Utahns.
According to genealogist CeCe Moore, a 21-year-old woman recently learned that her biological father was not the man who raised her as both she and he had thought but an employee at Millcreek's Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc.
The RMTI employee was also a part-time employee of the University of Utah from 1988 to 1993 and has been dead since 1999, according to a statement from the U., which contracted with RMTI and has been investigating the claim since April. Located at 1121 E. 3900 South, RMTI folded in February 1998 and was part-owned by three U. staff and faculty members.
Through DNA testing, the family concluded that the biological father of the 21-year-old woman is Thomas R. Lippert whose widow confirmed that he worked for RMTI for nine years until its closure and spent two years in prison after pleading to reduced charges in the kidnapping of a female college student in 1975 (see box).
The family wishes to remain anonymous at this time. The 21-year-old's mother told Tribune news-gathering partner KUTV that she recalls baby pictures supposed artificial insemination success stories prominently displayed at Lippert's desk.
"He was very proud of all those pictures," she said. At the time, that made her feel confident. Now she fears that he switched his own sperm sample with her husband's, and that the photos she saw were of Lippert's other unwitting biological children.
Moore, who has created a dedicated website titled "Was Your Child Fathered by Thomas Lippert?" says the family discovered the genetic mismatch between daughter and father after testing with 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer testing company in California.
Moore encouraged the family to also enlist genetic testing companies Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA. A test from the latter then showed a possible second cousin, unrelated to the biological mother, among the daughter's matches in its database. The family contacted her (in actuality, a first cousin once removed), and she, in turn, told them that Lippert was her first cousin.
Finally, a DNA test of Lippert's 99-year-old mother confirmed that she was the daughter's biological grandmother. And Lippert, her father.
The daughter's mother told KUTV that they were "extremely shook," but says that whenever she starts to think about Lippert, she reminds herself that she still loves her daughter as much as ever.
"Because nothing is better than our daughter," she says. "I would go through anything, including this and much more, to have her. She is an incredible blessing and just a wonderful, wonderful daughter."
Lippert's widow, Jean Lippert, lives in Salt Lake City and says that while she never suspected this, she's not surprised by the allegations. The two had no children together and, "I think, because Tom didn't have any kids, he wanted to have a lot of kids out there," she says. He claimed to be a frequent sperm donor and "maybe he switched some samples so he could have more of his kids in the world."
Asked why she stayed with a man for 20 years if she could so easily believe his guilt, Lippert's widow said she would have left him, but he threatened to kill her if she did. "He wasn't a very nice person."
Moore says the family has implored the U. to contact other couples who received services from RMTI, but to no avail. They hope there are no other families affected, but "knowing his background … the guy is probably a sociopath or something like that," Moore says. "It lends itself to concern."
The U.'s statement says there are no remaining records from RMTI to prove the family's claim, or any evidence of other cases. They declined further comment, saying it is an ongoing investigation.
Families with questions are encouraged to call the University of Utah Andrology Lab at 801-587-5852. The U. will provide free testing.
It's not the first time such allegations have arisen against employees at a fertility clinic. Utah native and former fertility doctor Cecil Jacobson was convicted in Virginia on 52 counts of fraud and perjury in 1992 for artificially inseminating at least 15 women with his own sperm while claiming to use other donors. Jacobson, who lives in Provo, wasn't aware of the allegations against Lippert and declined to comment.
Lippert, Patty Hearst, and 'The Love Experiment'
Thomas Lippert's conviction stems from a 1975 Minnesota kidnapping case that occurred at the same time as the Patty Hearst case an international media sensation in which an American newspaper heiress was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and later came to sympathize with the terrorists, joining the group before being apprehended while robbing a bank.
So what does that have to do with Lippert? A lot, says his then-attorney, Lindsay Arthur, co-founder of the Arthur Chapman law firm.
Lippert's kidnapping of Sue Cochran and attempted kidnappings of two other women were known as "The Love Experiment" because after taking Cochran against her will, he put her into a black booth and subjected her to behavioral modification techniques he'd read about in psychology textbooks. He attached an electrical wire to her fingers and showed her photos: If they were of himself, she got rewards. If they were of, say, a snake, she got a shock. His purpose was that she would learn to love him.
Both testified that they never had intercourse, but Cochran's lawyer said he threatened to brutalize her family if she were to leave. Lippert and one of his students, Harold Tenneson, were also accused of trying to kidnap two other women at gunpoint.
But the federal government had a problem in prosecuting Lippert: Cochran had spent much of each day studying freely at Southwest Minnesota State, where Lippert was a law professor and where the former Purdue student had enrolled after being kidnapped. She may have returned to Lippert at the end of each day due to his horrifying conditioning techniques, but the federal government was using expert testimony to prosecute Hearst that said the opposite: that kidnapping victims retain free will.
Defending both clients was the renowned F. Lee Bailey, so they couldn't have it both ways.
"In the end, the federal government wanted to get Patty Hearst more than they wanted to get Tom Lippert," Arthur says. Lippert pleaded to a reduced charge of conspiracy, with the prosecution recommending a mere 90 days in prison. The judge took exception, however, sentencing him to six years of which he served two.
"He could have gone bye-bye for a whole hell of a long time," Arthur says.
One of the women he failed to kidnap, Sally Wells, contacted The Tribune on Thursday. She was searching for police records in Lippert's case and came across this story.
"And then he ends up working in a fertility lab?" she says. "I couldn't believe it."
Arthur, who prior to representing Lippert had been his professor at St. Cloud State, says he believes he inspired Lippert's career choice. He was "unbelievably bright," he says, getting a rare A in his Business Law course. Lippert wrote him from prison every day, and then when he got out, he asked for the letters back. "And I never heard from him again."