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Thread: A powerlifter raised thousands for her battle against cancer. It was all a lie, police say.

  1. #1

    Default A powerlifter raised thousands for her battle against cancer. It was all a lie, police say.

    A powerlifter raised thousands for her battle against cancer. It was all a lie, police say.
    By Tim Elfrink

    When online critics began suggesting this summer that Jessica Ann Smith was faking her cancer diagnosis to raise money, the 31-year-old Pennsylvania powerlifter spent an hour on a local podcast fiercely defending herself.

    “If anyone straight up came up to me and said, ‘I think you’re faking this,’ I literally would say, ‘Okay, you’re coming to chemo with me on Monday,’” Smith told the Ever Evolving Truth in August. “The nurses would love it.”

    In fact, unknown to Smith, police detectives were already working to talk to her medical providers. And she was indeed faking it, police say.

    Smith was arrested Monday in Chester County, Pa., and charged with raising more than $10,000 on GoFundMe and Facebook by pleading for help paying for medical bills that didn’t exist.

    “She made people believe she had a very serious cancer diagnosis. The fact is she didn’t have cancer,” Mike Noone, Chester County’s first assistant district attorney, told WPVI. “She took advantage of people’s generosity, and everyone’s worst fear of a cancer diagnosis.”

    The case is the latest to allege fraud in the booming online crowdfunding world, which has attracted notable scammers, such as a nearby New Jersey couple charged last year with stealing more than $400,000 with a fake story of a homeless veteran helping them during a roadside emergency.

    Before her arrest, Smith made waves in Philadelphia-area media with her dramatic tales of overcoming devastating illnesses to become a competitive powerlifter, a sport mostly dominated by men. In a March interview with the Philly Voice, the heavily tattooed bodybuilder ticked off a litany of physical setbacks, from a double hip replacement to a rare heart condition to a cancer-related hysterectomy.

    “Two weeks ago, I had a baseball-sized mass removed from my abdomen,” she casually noted. “I’ve been through more in 32 years than anyone will probably experience, and I still push through and still get the job done."

    In June, she added another ailment to that list: a rare form of hereditary colon cancer. In the online fundraisers she set up under her maiden name, Jessica Cornell, she said the disease saddled her with “tremendous medical bills” and “travel costs,” according to a police report.

    On Facebook, she created a snappy hashtag — #FightLikeAJessica — and started selling $25 weightlifting-themed T-shirts with the phrase: “Crush Kilos and Cancer.”

    The response was astounding, she told the podcast hosts in August.

    “My GoFundMe hit 100 donors and I was like, ‘I don’t even like 10 people, let alone know 100.’ So I know a lot of these people are just random people who have heard about my story that are stepping up,” she said. “I got a crazy anonymous large donation and I was like, ‘Wow!’ It’s wild.”

    Those close to Smith had serious doubts about her claims from the start, though — including her husband.

    Robert Smith went to police in Uwchlan Township, a town about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, on July 31 to file a report, just over a month after an acquaintance of the couple had first alerted police to Smith’s questionable fundraising. He told authorities that “to the best of his knowledge, his wife does not have cancer of any form,” according to a police report. He also went through every medical record in their house and couldn’t find any evidence of the dire diagnosis, he told police.

    But Robert Smith did find one document that he handed over to police: A form supposedly signed by a USA Powerlifting doctor confirming that his wife had colon cancer. But when police called up that doctor, he denied that she had any cancer.

    While investigators waited for local hospitals to respond to search warrants on her medical files, Smith went to police herself to report “online harassment and bullying” by people calling her a fraud on her fundraising sites. She voluntarily sat for an interview on Sept. 12, describing her supposed illness, naming the doctors treating her and handing over several documents to police that she said confirmed the diagnosis.

    That story quickly fell apart, police said. The doctor she said was providing her chemotherapy told police he’d only ever treated her for anemia. The surgeon she said had removed “16 inches” of her colon wasn’t working at the hospital where she said she had the procedure.

    And when police eventually obtained more than 300 pages of her medical files, there was no mention of a cancer diagnosis, according to a police report.

    Smith was arraigned Monday on charges of receiving stolen property and theft by deception. She faces a preliminary hearing Nov. 12. It’s not clear from court records who is representing her.

  2. #2
    Iron Addict harmankardon1's Avatar
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    Lowest of the low, the cancer fakers for money... Very shameful stuff.

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    Forum Legend Beti ona's Avatar
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    We cannot trust what the government does with the tax money, nor can we trust that donations to individuals or private and charitable institutions are used correctly. Money and corruption will always go hand in hand.
    http://betionastore.es/

  4. #4

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    Serious question: why is this (or any other) gofundme scam a “crime”? It was not theft. She told a story and various people decided to donate money based on the story. No one put a gun to their head; they voluntarily opened their wallets and gave money. Very few stories are 100% true. There are always details that are left out, exaggerated, or simply false. I do not see a difference between this “crime” and panhandlers that cross our paths every day on the street or in intersections begging for money. Some hold signs saying things like they are homeless… they are a veteran… they are hungry… etc. None of those may be true, but since when it is a crime to beg for money—even if it is based on an exaggerated or false story. If people are giving voluntarily maybe they are giving because they simply found the “story” entertaining.

    Given the range of serious crimes out there it seems odd that police would put resources into combating this. This is nothing more than online panhandling… and beggars have been doing this for generations.

    I do not approve of what she did and I would never give to a gofundme story, but I fail to see the crime here.

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    Iron Addict harmankardon1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by baygbm View Post
    Serious question: why is this (or any other) gofundme scam a “crime”? It was not theft. She told a story and various people decided to donate money based on the story. No one put a gun to their head; they voluntarily opened their wallets and gave money. Very few stories are 100% true. There are always details that are left out, exaggerated, or simply false. I do not see a difference between this “crime” and panhandlers that cross our paths every day on the street or in intersections begging for money. Some hold signs saying things like they are homeless… they are a veteran… they are hungry… etc. None of those may be true, but since when it is a crime to beg for money—even if it is based on an exaggerated or false story. If people are giving voluntarily maybe they are giving because they simply found the “story” entertaining.

    Given the range of serious crimes out there it seems odd that police would put resources into combating this. This is nothing more than online panhandling… and beggars have been doing this for generations.

    I do not approve of what she did and I would never give to a gofundme story, but I fail to see the crime here.
    I actually agree with your point...

    but it falls under the definition of a crime otherwise she would not be charged "receiving stolen property and theft by deception"

    this type of action by her clearly is illegal so I'd say those panhandlers who say they're homeless when they're not could be arrested for that crime also....

    like you say though people handing over money to whoever for some vague internet reason, frequently details are going to get exaggerated or left out, at some point shit is gonna get murky in regards to the legal definition of "deception" this is gonna come down to wether the police feel it's worth the chase up.

    In this case clearly it was.

  6. #6

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    I hear you… but tons of things fall under the technical definition of a crime. I am sure I drove over the speed limit several times today. In fact, I am sure I do that literally every time I get behind the wheel of a car. I suspect you do this as well. When I cross the street I am often not in a crosswalk. Should I be arrested for jaywalking? We all commit technical crimes every day. Begging for money is a very old activity… and this activity usually involves telling some sob story to get people to feel sorry for you and give. The story is often incomplete, inaccurate, or just plain false. So what? Is that a crime? If giving from one person to another is voluntary I see no crime… because the giver can always ask questions, disbelieve what they are being told, or simply decline to give by walking away or clicking their mouse to another web page.That is very different from, say, a 501c3 nonprofit like the Red Cross or a local university promulgating falsehoods in order solicit donations.


    Was she guilty of shitty behavior? Yes. "Receiving stolen property and theft by deception"? No.

    It wasn’t so long ago we had a thread here about Dominic C’s family who lost their home to a fire. Someone had a gofundme page set up and every time they came close to the fundraising the goal they kept raising the target. To me, that was shitty behavior too. In fact, one could argue it was more criminal that what this powerlifter did.

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