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Texas Family At Center Of Convicted Felon Sperm Mix-Up Mystery

A doctor holds a vial of deep-frozen semen from a donor. (credit: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

A doctor holds a vial of deep-frozen semen from a donor. (credit: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

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SALT LAKE CITY (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The results of an investigation released Thursday concluded that it may never be known how a convicted felon replaced a patient’s sperm with his own two decades ago and fathered a child, or whether he did the same type of switch with other families.

The University of Utah said its review determined there was no evidence to suggest the late Thomas Lippert fathered any other children. However, it also noted that hundreds of families who used the fertility clinic where he worked have not been contacted.

The university, based on a recommendation by the doctors and medical ethicists who did the investigation, has chosen not to reach out to the estimated 1,500 couples who used the facility when Lippert worked there from 1988 to 1993.

Officials believe making families aware of the mix-up and offering paternity tests could cause emotional distress for families, some of whom many not have told children how they were conceived. The report also noted it would be an enormous task to find couples so long after their procedures.

“At this point, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s an isolated event,” said Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, chair of the panel.

The committee was unable to determine if a sperm sample was intentionally or accidently switched by Lippert before the child was conceived. The report notes Lippert, a lab technician, was also a sperm donor at the clinic and frequently processed his own samples.

Lippert’s widow, Jean, also reportedly said that before his death her husband told her he was a sperm donor with “children out there.” It isn’t known if he was referring to being a donor or having switched sperm with more patients.

The private clinic was closely associated with the university and closed in 1998. Some of the supervisors at the clinic are dead.

The family at the center of the mix-up, the Branums of San Antonio, did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press. Their daughter, Annie Branum, a now 21-year-old student at the University of Texas San Antonio, has said the discovery has forced her to rethink who she is. Her family stumbled upon the situation while using widely available DNA tests to trace their family roots.

Only five people have had paternity tests done since the mix-up became public earlier this year, and the university created a hotline and website for affected families, Botkin said.

One family discovered a child’s father was not the chosen sperm donor, the university said. Officials say the father was not Lippert, and they are working with the family to sort it out.

The university did not do its own paternity test on Annie Branum and instead assumed the family was telling the truth, said University of Utah Medical Group CEO Sean Mulvihill. The family was not interested in doing more testing, he said.

Earlier this week, Mulvihill presented the report and apologized again to the family. He said they were gracious and appreciative.

Mulvihill said the entire investigation relied on the best intentions and truthfulness of people contacted, since medical records are missing, key witnesses are deceased and evidences is scattered.

“We don’t have one source of truth related to this case,” Mulvihill said. “There is uncertainly at every level as you go through this equation.”

The report said no background check was done on Lippert before he was hired in 1988, meaning officials didn’t know he had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and been ordered to get 90 days of psychiatric treatment and serve two years in prison. The crime occurred in Minnesota in the mid-1970s when he and another person kidnapped a female college student and put her through “love experiments” intended to get her to fall for him, the report states.

Former colleagues of Lippert told the panel that Lippert had an odd personality but was generally an effective employee. Some employees at the clinic may have known about a criminal background but believed it to be in relation to some white collar crime, the report says.

Lippert left work at the clinic in 1993 and died from complications of alcoholism in 1999, the report says.

The hotline and website will remain open, said university spokesman Chris Nelson. He said other people are still trying to decide whether to do a paternity test.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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