Apr 17, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon


11Woman Who Claimed $80K In Disability For Crippling Agoraphobia Is A World Traveler

A 52-year-old British author who claimed £50,000, more than $83,000, in disability benefits claims she “'was agoraphobic and couldn't walk” while prosecutors say she was globe trotting and working as a tour guide in Argentina.

Tracy Johnson, of Somerset, claimed she was a “prisoner in her own home” since 2008 and was unable to leave Britain for years, according to the Daily Mail.

Charged with benefits fraud, prosecutor Joanna James told Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court this week that Johnson took trips to New York and Spain, styling herself as a professional photographer and "XPlorPreneur." She even spent four months in India, worked as a travel writer in South America and ran her own tour guide business in Argentina.

“Tracy Johnson was living the life that honest, decent, hard working tax payers could only dream of,” James said. “While workers were going out to do their daily grind she was shopping in New York or having a few days in Madrid.”

Meanwhile, her benefits forms told a very different story.

“She said she was unable to live on a day-to-day basis because she was agoraphobic, suffered depression, hallucinations, anxiety, blackouts and post traumatic stress disorder,” James told the court. “She said she stumbled and fell repeatedly and could not walk more than five meters without help.”

Her benefits paperwork says she needs constant support and care and that a friend was living with her. She said she spent all day in her bedroom because that's where she felt “safe.”

“She said she rarely came into contact with other people and was distressed and agitated when she talked of her illnesses," James explained. "She claimed that she was so unwell that she was unable to live in her own home. But while submitting claim forms telling the authorities that she was unwell she was travelling the world on taxpayers’ money."

Department of Work and Pensions fraud investigator Kim Osbourne, testified that Johnson concealed her lifestyle by claiming benefits from her mother’s address.

“When asked for an interview she seemed to disappear and not cooperate with the department,” Osbourne said.

Authorities received a tip about the alleged benefits fraud, but, when they tried to contact Johnson initially, they found she was out of the country.

“She was arrested when she tried to renew her benefits claim last June on her return from India,” James said. “She asked for them to be backdated and even persuaded a community nurse to complete the form on her behalf. It was absolute, blatant dishonesty.”

Johnson, who is representing herself, is charged with fraud, dishonestly making a false representation and dishonestly failing to notify a change in circumstances between January 2008 and July 2012.

She denies the 13 charges against her.

The New Statesman published a story today about a British woman who suffers from agoraphobia and Asperger syndrome and struggles to get by on disability given England’s benefits cuts.

“I’m trying to juggle all the bills,” says Bessie Biela. “The way they come in and the benefits are paid makes it impossible… Life’s been awful throughout [the last] year. The fear and stress is awful.”

Sources: Daily Mail, New Statesman

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11Colorado Mom Fakes Her Son's Cancer And Steals Over $25,000 In Donations

A Colorado mother was arrested after it was discovered that she took in over $25,000 in donations from her community because she lied about her son being sick with cancer.

Sandy Thi Nguyen, 28, allegedly convinced her own son, the rest of her family, and the community at large that the 6-year-old boy had a rare form of terminal cancer.

"We don't have any reason to believe that anyone other than her knew the truth," said Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Captain Larry Etheridge. "The little boy believed he had cancer. The rest of the family believed he had cancer."

According to reports, the Department of Human Services received information alleging that the sick boy was not actually sick. The sheriff’s office launched the investigation on March 7 and discovered that the woman had made up the story in order to steal money from people. The investigation determined that Nguyen “did convince her son, family and community that her 6-year-old son had cancer and was receiving cancer treatment since approximately September 2012.”

Massive fundraising efforts took place in Nguyen’s community once she was able to convince her family that the young boy had cancer. The mother started a Facebook page to gain support from people, and the page featured pictures of the boy with a shaved head to look as if he had been going through chemotherapy. Donations came pouring in from fundraisers at the boy’s school, Rolling Hills Elementary, and the family eventually collected more than $25,000.

"Over the last several months, Ms. Nguyen accepted at least $16,000.00 from that account, as well as a trip to Disneyland for herself and family, which was paid for by the donated funds,” said the sheriff’s office, adding that after interviewing her, Nguyen "admitted that her son does not have cancer, and stated that some of the money [$23,000) recovered from the residence was from donations received.”

Nguyen said that her son was diagnosed with stage three Acute Myelogenous Leukemia and had received 317 days of chemo, seven days of radiation, and a number of other serious procedures in order to fight the cancer. An October 2013 5K walk was even held in honor of the boy, and according to the walk’s website, they were informed that the boy only had around eight months to live.

Rolling Hills Elementary Principal Darla Thompson sent a letter to parents after police informed her that Nguyen had scammed the community.

"We are deeply troubled by these allegations and saddened to learn that an adult may have taken advantage of an innocent child and our school community,” wrote Thompson. “But the allegations do not, in any way, diminish the concern and support demonstrated by the Rolling Hills community for a child believed to be facing a life-threatening challenge. It is important for our community to continue to show support and compassion for this child, who is also a victim in this case. The child was wrongfully led to believe that he was ill, and he was not responsible for the parent’s alleged actions.”

After being arrested on felony charges of theft and criminal impersonation to gain benefit, Nguyen posted $10,000 bond and was released for the time being.

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11Mouse Models Have Failed

Azra Raza, M.D. Professor of Medicine, Director of the MDS Center, at Columbia University recently wrote the following regarding mouse models of cancer. Azra was answering the question: “What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement?”

Mouse Models

An obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed in cancer research is that mouse models do not mimic human disease well and are essentially worthless for drug development. We cured acute leukemia in mice in 1977 with drugs that we are still using in exactly the same dose and duration today in humans with dreadful results. . . . there are no appropriate mouse models which can mimic the human situation.

Raza quotes Robert Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, as stating that the reason people continue to use mouse models are: "Two reasons. First, there's no other model with which to replace that poor mouse. Second, the FDA has created inertia because it continues to recognize these models as the gold standard for predicting the utility of drugs." (See here for more on the comments of Robert Weinberg. I will also address some of his comments on the FAQs section of the new website.) Weinberg’s first reason is fallacious as there are many times when doing nothing is preferred to the status quo of doing something. For example, doing research that is misleading is worse than doing no research at all. Weinberg’s second reason, while true is just an excuse to maintain the status quo. Scientists do not have to use models that do not work just because someone in a different department of the federal government suggests they use mouse models.

But Raza adds a third reason that is more to the point:

There is a third reason related more to the frailties of human nature. Too many eminent laboratories and illustrious researchers have devoted entire lives to studying malignant diseases in mouse models and they are the ones reviewing each other's grants and deciding where the NIH money gets spent. They are not prepared to accept that mouse models are basically valueless for most of cancer therapeutics.

Sound familiar? I wonder if David Gorski MD, PhD agrees with her? (You can read her entire essay at http://www.edge.org/responses/what-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement.) Furthermore, I wonder if any scientists will speak out and support her in this position? I doubt it. Growing a spine could result in their colleagues talking behind their back or the university speaking sternly to them about their tenured position and being a team player. I cannot imagine anyone asking a full professor to endure that kind of horror just to save the lives of few billion human patients.

Raza’s position is consistent with a December 19, 2013 press release from Jackson Laboratory that announced the response to cocaine and methamphetamine differs between 2 substrains of the commonly used Black 6 mouse. The C57BL/6J mice appeared to have a weaker response to the drugs than the C57BL/6N mice. The reason appears to be a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the gene Cyfip2. The press release states that: “This means that researchers should be very cautious when comparing behavioral data from studies using 6J and 6N strains.” (For more see reference  [1].)

As I have stated many times, when strains of mice differ in their response to drugs and disease and monozygotic human twins do the same, trans-species extrapolation is not going to have any predictive value. (See Trans-Species Modeling Theory for more.) But it will be a hard to convince people of this when they have a vested interest in animal models. And by vested interest I do not just mean a financial interest.

Recently Universities and Science Minister of the UK, David Willetts stated: “Animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives. But the results we get from research can transform lives and pave the way for new and ground-breaking medical advances.” Needless to say the Science Minister provided no references for this claim and refuses to support a proper debate as I outlined here or even consider the notion that vested interest groups might lie. Willetts supports the status quo as long as he benefits. Moreover, as I have also stated, there are no alternatives to something that is not viable in the first place. There are no alternatives to using animals as predictive models for human response to drugs and disease.

Interestingly, in the same article that Willets was quoted in, Minister Norman Baker was quoted as saying that “the scientific case for developing new techniques that do not involve animals is ‘as strong as the moral one.’ ”

Raza is not the first to point out that mouse models have failed. The list of scientists who have stated more or less the same thing in science journals is long. Despite this, nothing seems to be changing. Perhaps that is because society seems to be under the impression that all scientists support the use of animals as predictive models in drug and disease research. As long as the vested interest groups get to phrase the survey questions, can buy advertising space, have the support of the media, and refuse to debate specific questions in the presence of unbiased experts, this will not change. Must be nice to have that kind of job security.


1.         Kumar, V.; Kim, K.; Joseph, C.; Kourrich, S.; Yoo, S.-H.; Huang, H.C.; Vitaterna, M.H.; Pardo-Manuel de Villena, F.; Churchill, G.; Bonci, A.; Takahashi, J.S. C57BL/6N Mutation in Cytoplasmic FMRP interacting protein 2 Regulates Cocaine Response. Science 2013, 342, 1508-1512. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6165/1508.abstract

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11Warning Issued After Credit Card Fraud Involving One $9.84 Charge Exposed

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning to all credit card holders that if they see a charge for $9.84 on their statement, their information may be in the hands of crooks.

The credit card fraud was brought to light by investigative reporter Brian Krebs who says that the person or people behind it rely on the carelessness of the cardholders to be able to follow through. By charging such a small amount, the crooks are able to have the credit card number to use it for fraud because so many people will mistakenly overlook such a small charge.

In his report, Krebs says that he received a lot of questions from people who noticed the strange $9.84 charge, so he decided to investigate the matter. Krebs eventually discovered that close to 230 websites connected to just a small number of individuals were linked to each case of the charge.

“If I had to hazard a charitable guess about what is going on here, I would say some ambitious “affiliates” associated with these moneymaking schemes were abusing the system and pushing through charges on stolen credit cards,” writes Krebs. “But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that this is little more than an elaborate (and probably successful) scam set up to steal little bits of money from lots and lots of people.”

This scam, he explains, is not something new, and it is very easy for the people behind it to perpetrate.

“By the way, this is not a new type of fraud, nor is this particular fraud a recent occurrence — although the bogus $9.84 charges do appear to have spiked around the holidays,” says Krebs. “Most of the domains involved in this scheme were registered a year ago or more, and a quick search on the amount $9.84 shows that the fraudsters responsible for this scheme have been at it since at least the first half of 2013.

Krebs goes on to offer advice to people who have discovered the fraudulent charge on their credit card statement.

“If you see a charge like this or any other activity on your credit or debit card that you did not authorize, contact your bank and report the fraud immediately. I think it’s also a good idea in cases like this to request a new card in the odd chance your bank doesn’t offer it: After all, it’s a good bet that your card is in the hands of crooks, and is likely to be abused like this again.”

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11Tormented And Disturbed Woman Sentenced To Prison After False Rape Report

Sara Ylen, 38, has been sentenced to at least five years in prison after filing a false report of rape just days after pleading no contest in a cancer scam case.

Ylen was accused of fabricating a story about two men attacking her at her Lexington home in 2012. The false police report claimed that a construction company owner and a mental health worker raped her in her home after she drove her children to school. The men attended the same church as her ex-husband. Ylen was also convicted of tampering with evidence by using makeup to create what looked like bruises.

Her sentencing in the false rape report case by St. Clair County Judge Daniel Kelly exceeds guidelines.

Judge Kelly stated it would be a "travesty of justice" to sentence Sara Ylen to any less, reports The Huffington Post.

The strict sentencing comes as a result of Ylen's lack of credibility.

For two years Ylen accepted thousands of dollars from supporters and was treated by a hospice service after claiming to have end-stage cervical cancer that had spread throughout her entire body. After state police found no evidence that confirmed her cancer diagnosis, Ylen pleaded no contest to fraud, reports Boston.com.

"This is a tormented and disturbed woman who will go to extraordinary lengths to wreak havoc upon other individuals, potentially subjecting them to life in prison in order to gain sympathy and notoriety for herself," Judge Kelly said Friday.

Ylen was sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison for the false rape report and a minimum of three years for evidence tampering. Boston.com reports the sentences will run consecutive, and her eventual release will be determined by the state parole board.

Ylen's attorney, David Heyboer, said a year in the local jail would have been enough. Ylen declined to speak in court.

Prosecutor Suzette Samuels views Ylen's sentencing as "justice in its best form."

This is not the first time Ylen has been in the public eye.

In 2003 she agreed to be featured in "Sara's Story," an award-winning series in the Port Huron Times Herald. Ylen shared a story about being raped in daylight in the parking lot of a major retailer in 2001. Her alleged attacker, James Grissom, was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison.

Grissom was released from prison in 2012 after a judge threw out his rape conviction when new evidence surfaced discrediting Ylen.

Ylen's time in court is not over.

On February 19 she will be sentenced in the fake cancer case.

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11Woman Sentenced in Massive Psychic Fraud Scheme

A South Florida woman is headed to federal prison and will be forced to repay $2.2 million to victims for an elaborate fraud scheme in which she told people she could help them using her psychic powers.

44-year-old Nancy Demetro Marks was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison for telling victims that she could do a number of things using her psychic powers.

The elaborate scheme isn’t just confined to Nancy Marks, however. Eight other family members were arrested and will be charged in the massive scheme. Marks’ mother Rose appears to be the leader of the operation and will reportedly receive a much harsher sentence in March.

According to victim testimony, the Marks family took millions of dollars over years from people whom they convinced they could influence situations like infertility and terminal cancer. The family had psychic shops set up in Fort Lauderdale and New York.

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11Florida Rep. Alan Grayson Lost Millions of Dollars in Stock Fraud Scheme

Florida Democratic Representative Alan Grayson entered the national media spotlight during the debate over healthcare by saying that the GOP plan was for the sick to “Die Quickly.” Since then Rep. Grayson has tried to become the kind of outspoken character for the left that Iowa’s Steve King or Texas’s Louie Gohmert is for the right. Whether or not he’s been successful is a matter for debate, but Rep. Grayson finds himself in the news again only this time for being a victim. The Associated Press reports that Grayson was one of 120 investors who lost more than $35 million in a scheme that purportedly allowed investors to use their portfolios as collateral for a loan.

In the article Grayson told the AP that “he has had a long record for picking winning stocks,” and the trial documents seem to back up that account. William Chapman, the con artist in charge, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison primarily because Grayson’s stocks performed so well that Chapman was unable to cover what he owed the Congressman. His inability to cover these payments to Grayson is what “caused Chapman’s scheme to crumble.”

According to a report from POLITICO, “Grayson has a minimum of $22.8 million in assets, as well as at least $5 million in liabilities.” Along with doing well in the stock market, Grayson “helped create a successful long-distance telecommunications company.” This is also not the first time the congressman has lost money due to fraud. He won a lawsuit in 2009 against Derivium Capital, whose “business plan for hedging an investor’s stock profile was nearly identical to the plan outline[d] by Chapman.” Grayson also expressed disappointment with federal court officials for not better protecting his identity as a victim in the fraud.

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11Man Who Sued DC Metro After Banana Peel Injury Caught on Camera Planting Peel Himself (Video)

A man who sued the Washington Metro after sustaining injuries from slipping on a banana peel in an elevator at a train station is now being charged with second-degree fraud thanks to surveillance footage of him planting the peel.

42-year-old Maurice Owens is clearly shown on camera walking into the empty elevator, reaching into his pocket, and then looking up at the security camera with a worried look on his face. As he waits for the elevator to open, the banana peel is suddenly on the ground by the doors, and while the video doesn’t show Owens dropping the peel on the ground, it is clear that the peel was not there when he walked in.

The end of the video shows the doors opening and Owens slipping on the peel as he exits the elevator. He immediately gets up, but according to reports, he was taken to Howard University Hospital for treatment of his supposed injuries. Just two weeks after the incident, Owens filed a lawsuit against Washington Metro for $15,000.

Now, a judge has thrown out his lawsuit after watching the surveillance video, and Owens is being charged with second-degree fraud. Washington Metro says that the investment in the cameras was obviously well worth it and it is “protecting fare-paying riders and the region's taxpayers from fraudulent claims.”

Watch the incriminating surveillance video below.

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11Three Senior Navy Intelligence Officials Being Investigated In Gun Silencer Scheme That Cost Military $1.6M

Three senior Navy intelligence officials are currently under investigation for an elaborate scheme that cost the Navy $1.6 million for gun silencers that really only cost $8,000. The three suspects are civilians and have not yet been named by the Navy.

According to reports, the men arranged to buy the gun silencers from an auto mechanic who happened to be the brother-in-law of one of the men. They had the mechanic, identified as Mark Stuart Landersman, get 349 silencers made, and in total, they wound up costing $8,000. Landersman, along with the three Navy officials, had the silencers sold to the Navy for $1.6 million, which is nearly 200 times more than what they actually cost to make.

The names of the three Navy intelligence officials that are under investigation are currently not being released, but the Washington Post claims that due to errors in redacting court documents, they can safely identify two of them as Lee Hall and David Landersman.

Once Mark Landersman got the custom silencers and sold them back to the Navy for an enormous profit, he allegedly went on a spending spree, buying stock shares in a microbrewery for $100,000 and refurbishing older cars. The auto mechanic was arrested late last month and has since been released from jail on $100,000 bond. 

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11Salem Fortune Teller Shop Accused Of Fraud

While the town is studied in history classes for its witch hunts during the 17th century, the presence of witches and warlocks is still a contentious issue in Salem, Massachusetts.

Local law enforcement authorities have lately been focusing on Fatima’s, a Salem psychic center that charges money to remove what it believes to be curses. The police have been investigating Fatima’s for fraud simply because it believes in curses. Because most of the other Wiccan communities and psychic centers in the city do not believe in curses, they have not been targeted. 

An individual named Ryan Reid from West Henrietta, N.Y., initially alerted the authorities of Fatima’s fraudulence, claiming that he spent $16,800 for a “shield” that would remove his curse. Police investigated the shop and found that its fortune-teller license had expired, so they forced it to close. The city’s licensing board has since allowed the shop to reopen for the remainder of the year, provided they do not use curses as a portion of their business.

The controversy surrounding Fatima’s has pitted those of the fortune-telling community against law enforcement.

Christian Day, the owner of two Salem witch shops, claimed that other religious figures should be punished for doing the same thing as Fatima's. “If they’re a fraud, then we’re all frauds, and all religion is a fraud. They’re not regulating the priest who absolves you of your sins and tells you to put some money in the collection basket, or the old lady who sends all her money to Pat Robertson. They pick on us for one reason: They’re afraid of us. They’ve always been afraid of us,” Day told The Boston Globe.

Other members of the fortune-telling community, however, were glad to see Fatima’s temporarily closed down. 

“What I do is read people’s energy. What they do is charge thousands of dollars for sea glass to read a curse. They prey on people who are weak, and they make us all look like frauds,” local fortune teller Timothy Reagan told The Boston Globe. 

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