We’ve seen some pretty heinous scams in the past, but any that steal money meant for charity definitely place pretty high… It’s hard to believe people are still doing this!
Back in October of 2022, Madison “Maddie” Russo opened up on social media about the devastating cancer diagnosis she had received eight months prior. Her story even got picked up by the news! She told the North Scott Press at the time:
“I feel like I’ve been rocked to my soul, and right now, everything is kind of uncertain. I just want to know my game plan, and right now, I don’t know what that is.”
She revealed she had stage two pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, “and a tumor the size of a football that wrapped around her spine.” She said that after 15 rounds of oral chemotherapy and 90 rounds of radiation, she only had an “11 percent chance” of survival. So sad… Or at least it would have been.
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The 19-year-old college student then continued a months-long campaign across TikTok and GoFundMe to document her cancer journey, garnering support across the board — including financial. However, that all came to a head when she was arrested last Monday on a charge of first-degree theft by means of deception — a class C felony.
According to the Eldridge Police Department, the Iowa resident FAKED her cancer! It was all a scam!
Speculation began to spring up after “witnesses who have medical experience” noticed the details of Maddie’s story lacked credibility, according to the police statement. The witnesses met with the Police Department on January 11, where they “pointed out many medical discrepancies found on her pictures posted on her social media sites,” according to Chief of Police Joseph Sisler. He continued:
“It was discovered through investigation, that separate and apart from the medical discrepancies, and from the GoFundMe page, Madison accepted private donations from other businesses, non-profit organizations, school districts and private citizens. The names of the victims will not be released at this time as we are still trying to collect the information from all victims.”
During the investigation, authorities obtained medical records which showed Maddie “had never been diagnosed with any kind of cancer or tumor from any medical facilities within the Quad Cities or surrounding cities.” Wow.
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Additionally, police say she spoke of her made up health battle at St. Ambrose University, where she studied, and at the National Pancreatic Foundation, which has since confirmed, according to Fox News:
“We can confirm the person in question has had no contact with the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and has never spoken at any of our events.”
According to court documents obtained by KWQC, authorities seized medical supplies, bank records, an IV pole, a feeding pump, a wig, money, pills for nausea that were prescribed under a relative’s name and a 2023 Kia Sportage after Maddie’s arrest.
The accused raised approximately $37,303 from 439 unsuspecting donors just on her GoFundMe page… Yes, you read that right. $37k. And that’s not including the private donors. Thomas Boulund, the person responsible for organizing the GoFundMe, has since taken it down — and bailed Maddie out of jail. The fundraising site later addressed the scam in a statement obtained by People:
“[GoFundMe] has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. All donors have been refunded and we have removed this fundraiser. The beneficiary has also been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers. GoFundMe’s Giving Guarantee offers a full refund in the rare case when something isn’t right; this is the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry.”
At the time, it is unclear whether or not Maddie has retained a lawyer. She is scheduled to return to court March 2 for an arraignment.
What a complete betrayal of empathy and trust, and a heartless exploitation of the very real health battles many face every day. We hope justice is harsh here…
Thoughts, Perezcious readers? Let us know in the comments down below.
[Images via Scott County Sheriff’s Office & Thomas Boulund/GoFundMe]