Watch CBSN Live

Families in fear after rogue employee may have swapped own sperm at Utah fertility clinic

The University of Utah will provide free paternity testing to individuals who used a fertility clinic on the campus years ago after reports surfaced that one client may have been impregnated with sperm from a former employee and not her husband, a spokesperson told CBS News.

The University of Utah said in a statement that the school had been investigating “credible information regarding the possible mislabeling or tampering of a semen sample” since April 2013.

People who used the clinic, Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc. (RMTI) -- which is no longer in business -- between 1988 to 1993 or the university's adjacent laboratory can call the University of Utah Andrology Lab to schedule testing. RMTI was not owned or operated by the university, but was contracted for preparing specimens and semen analysis. Three of the owners of the facility were university faculty and staff members.

The time frame mentioned by the university coincides with when the former RMTI employee in question, identified as Thomas R. Lippert, worked at those facilities, a spokesperson confirmed. He was also a part-time worker at the university. Lippert died in 1999.

CBS affiliate KUTV in Salt Lake City reported that the situation came to light after a family that had used RMTI to conceive a daughter -- now 21 years old -- decided to try 23 and Me, a DNA testing service, to learn more about their genealogy. When they received the results, the family found out that their daughter was not related to her father.

"I felt my stomach just drop when I called my daughter and my husband's DNA up next to one another they didn't share any DNA at all, and I just thought to myself, 'Oh my God,'" the mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said to KUTV.

She added that she was “shaking” when she told her husband and her daughter the “terrible news.”

Using the genealogy test results, the mother said she found a cousin of Thomas Lippert. The mother said another DNA test using Lippert's mother's DNA confirmed Lippert was indeed the biological father.

The cousin told her that Lippert had worked at RMTI, and the mother says she remembers him sitting at the front desk with many baby pictures on display.

"He seemed friendly and was very proud of all those pictures almost seemed like a brag board up there, those where the children that he had helped people have,” the mother said.

However, she now believes now he may have had more sinister motives.

"I just thought, 'Oh my gosh,' this was not an accident, this was intentional.  All those photos of the babies that he was so proud of I thought, 'Oh my God how many of those are his biological children?'" the mother said.

Because lab records from RMTI are no longer available, the university said it does not know how the incident may have happened, or how many families may be eligible for testing. So far, one family has contacted the university for testing, the spokesperson confirmed. 

It turns out Lippert also served time for kidnapping before he worked at RMTI. The university spokesperson said that Lippert’s criminal past was “unknown at that time.”

In 1974, various reports say Lippert was convicted of kidnapping a female student in Minnesota. Prosecutors alleged he tried to "brainwash her (the victim) into falling in love with him” by putting her in a black box, threatening her family, forcing her to sleep in the same bed and using electric-shock treatment on her.  

The Salt Lake Tribune reports he pleaded guilty to reduced charges and served two years in prison.

Lippert’s widow, Jean Lippert, told the Salt Lake Tribune she never knew that her husband may have fathered other children. She admitted she wasn’t shocked about the news surfacing since he had told her he was a frequent sperm donor.

"I think, because Tom didn’t have any kids, he wanted to have a lot of kids out there…. Maybe he switched some samples so he could have more of his kids in the world,” she said.

The University of Utah Andrology Lab can be contacted at 801-587-5852 to schedule testing.