A Florida woman was charged Wednesday with cruelly stringing along a Minnesota couple who planned to adopt her baby — for seven months after she miscarried.
"It's a girl," Carrie Cutler, 31, told the couple in a text message three weeks after her pregnancy ended.
After the miscarriage last August, Cutler took more than $13,000 from Todd and Alyssa Holmstrom to cover her rent, food and medical expenses, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.
They didn't find out until March that they wouldn't be taking home a baby.
"They went through a horrific experience," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told NBC News.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
The Holmstroms were matched with Cutler and signed a pre-adoption agreement last July and received ultrasound images of the fetus. They tried to meet with her in October but were rebuffed — a "red flag" in hindsight, according to Gualtieri.
In February, after collecting thousands of dollars from the Holmstroms, Cutler sent them and the adoption agency another message that said, "The baby is fine" and told them she was scheduled to give birth by C-section in March.
But on the due date, Cutler told the couple the delivery had been postponed. When the Holmstroms did travel to Tampa for the expected birth and met with Cutler for the first time, she kept up the fraud, police said.
"Talk about wreaking havoc with someone's emotions — she met with them in a restaurant and points to her stomach and says, 'Hey, did you see the baby kick?'" Gualtieri said.
Police said that because Cutler was heavyset, the couple could not tell that she was not pregnant. A few days later, they returned home after Cutler told them the doctors miscalculated how far along she was and gave her a delivery date of six weeks later.
The adoption agency that matched up Cutler and the Holmstroms then contacted the hospital and learned that Cutler had miscarried months earlier.
After a three-month investigation, police arrested Cutler at a Budget Inn in Tampa on Wednesday morning and charged her with adoption fraud.
"She denied it, said she didn't know she miscarried — which is nonsense," Gualtieri said.
Cutler, who has previous arrests for passing bad checks, does not yet have an attorney. Gualtieri said she is pregnant again.
Officials at the National Council for Adoption say the deep desire to adopt can blind some prospective parents to warning signs that they are being duped.
"Compared to successful placements, fraud isn’t common," said Chuck Johnson, the council's president. "But fraud does happen and every prospective adoptive family and/or birth parent needs to be on guard for it."
Tracy Connor is a senior writer for NBC News. She started this role in December, 2012. Connor is responsible for reporting and writing breaking news, features and enterprise stories for NBCNews.com. Connor joined NBC News from the New York Daily News, where she was a senior writer covering a broad range of news and supervising the health and immigration beats. Prior to that she was an assistant city editor who oversaw breaking news and the courts and entertainment beats.
Earlier, Connor was a staff writer at the New York Post, United Press International and Brooklyn Paper Publications.
Connor has won numerous awards from journalism organizations including the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.