A 19-year-old Iowa woman was charged earlier this month with scamming nearly $40,000 with false claims that she had cancer.
The Eldridge Police Department said Madison Russo claimed to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer, and a football-sized tumor wrapped around her spine as she solicited more than $37,000 from 439 donors, according to KWQC.
Police said they were alerted to the false claims by witnesses with medical experience who noted medical discrepancies in pictures Russo posted to her social media sites. An arrest affidavit said that some of the photographs were taken from social media pages of actual cancer patients and shared as her own.
Investigators subpoenaed Russo’s medical records and found she had never been diagnosed with cancer or any other kind of tumor in Iowa’s Quad Cities or surrounding areas.
According to police Russo established a GoFundMe page and frequently spoke and gave interviews about her cancer journey. She had speaking engagements at St. Ambrose University, the National Pancreatic Foundation, and a Project Purple podcast and was featured in an interview in the North Scott Press newspaper.
Russo accepted donations from businesses, non-profit organizations, school districts, and private individuals.
The Ohl Strong Foundation, a local cancer awareness group that had given money to Russo, posted a statement saying it was “saddened to hear that one of our recipients in 2022 has been charged with fraudulently accepting assistance from our fund.”
“Our goal has been, and continues to be, to provide financial support to 100% of the pancreatic cancer patients in our community,” the organization said.
GoFundMe also provided a statement that noted its Giving Guarantee “offers donors a full refund in the rare case when something isn’t right.”
Russo was arrested on January 23 on a theft by deception charge and released on a $10,000 bond — paid for by the same person who organized the GoFundMe (and took that down when Russo was arrested) — according to police who said the investigation is ongoing, WQAD reported.
Russo’s arraignment is scheduled for March 2.
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[Featured image: WQAD screenshot]