An Alabama woman who faked a diagnosis of terminal cancer to solicit more than $260,000 in donations has been sentenced to 25 months in prison.
Jennifer Flynn Cataldo, 37, was sentenced on Nov. 8 after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud in August, according to WHNT.
The Birmingham mother's deception was so complete she even told her young son she was dying.
"This defendant's conduct was reprehensible," said U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town. "For more than two years she engaged in an elaborate scheme that preyed upon the sympathy and generosity of her friends and family. Not only did she fake cancer to take their money, she used her minor child as part of her ruse and allowed the child to believe his mother was dying. She has earned every nickel of her punishment."
Cataldo has been ordered to pay $79,629 in restitution in addition to her prison sentence.
From 2014 to May 2017, Cataldo presented herself as a terminal cancer patient to collect donations through two GoFundMe accounts, using Facebook, emails and text messages. In addition to asking for money to pay for medical expenses, Cataldo raised money for a family trip to Disney World, according to The Associated Press.
"Crimes like this make good people think twice before they are willing ot be charitable, and Cataldo's conduct could have a chilling effect on donations to legitimate accounts set up for people who are truly in need," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr.
At least part of the $264,163 collected by Cataldo was going towards paying for opioids. Sentencing documents indicate she was buying 30 to 40 Percocet pills each day.
"It is hard to understand how anyone could ignore the anguish that their greed or drug-fueled lie brought to their loved ones every single day," Sharp said.
Calling Cataldo's actions a crime of "calculated cruelty," Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the case is another example of the damage done by opioids.
"The fact that we now know that part of the money was going to fund illegal opioids is yet more evidence of how destructive these drugs can be," he said. "It is imperative that we confront such criminal activities and that the offenders are stopped and punished."
People faking cancer to raise money on GoFundMe is common. "GoFraudMe," a website dedicated to identifying and calling out scam pages on GoFundMe, has its own "Fake Cancer" category with dozens of entries.