Woman who made fake cancer claims fined and ordered to repay money to donors

A woman who falsely claimed to have cancer to fundraise money has been ordered to pay $40,000 (£33,000) but will stay out of prison. 

Madison Russo, 20, never had pancreatic cancer, leukaemia, or a football-sized tumour wrapped around her spine – despite what she claimed on social media and fundraising pages.

The Iowa woman documented her “battle” with cancer on social media, receiving donations from more than 400 people.

She was given probation and a 10-year suspended sentence on Friday. If she stays out of trouble for three years of probation, she will stay out of prison.

Russo was ordered to pay back $39,000 (£32,000) and also pay a fine of $1,370 (£1,126).

Handing down the sentence, the judge said: “Through this scheme, you deceived your friends, your family, your community, other cancer victims, charities and strangers who were motivated by your supposedly tragic story to donate to help support you.”

Her scam unravelled when medical professionals spotted discrepancies in her story online.

Police subpoenaed her medical records and found she had never been diagnosed with cancer. She was arrested in January and pleaded guilty in June to first-degree theft.

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Russo told the court she made her story up because she hoped her fake cancer battle would force her troubled family to focus on her.

“A lot of people have made speculation as to why I did this and how somebody who looked like they had everything together could have such a mess,” she said.

“I didn’t do this for money or greed. I didn’t do this for attention. I did this as an attempt to get my family back together.”

Prosecutor Kelly Cunningham recommended against prison time because Russo had no criminal history, had good grades at university, was employed and was unlikely to reoffend.

Russo apologised to the court and her victims, and said she wished she had sought out help regarding her family.

“I fully acknowledge what I did was wrong. And I’m incredibly sorry,” she said through sobs. “If there was anything I could do to take it back I would. The reality is I can’t.”

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