The scam has been confessed by a 20-year-old Iowa woman who deceived people on the internet by falsely claiming to have pancreatic cancer and a tumor “the size of a football” in order to defraud donors of $37,000.
According to reports from WQUAD station, Madison “Maddie” Russo from Bettendorf confessed her culpability for the offense of first-degree theft, categorized as a felony, when she appeared before a judge on Wednesday.
When she is sentenced at a later time, Russo may potentially receive a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment.
Russo initially pleaded not guilty to the theft charges, which involved her elaborate scheme to steal money. As part of this scheme, she secretly kept donations from over 439 unsuspecting well-wishers, including cancer organizations and school districts.
The 19-year-old woman from Iowa was arrested in late January after police said she had faked having Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and a tumor the size of a football wrapped around her spine.
The unscrupulous fraudster recorded her fabricated cancer struggle on her TikTok account and in GoFundMe posts.
It can be a burden and cause worry for families to have expenses like meals, gas, bills, and the cost of medical diagnosis, especially when faced with a cancer diagnosis like Maddie’s. The online campaign description of her defunct campaign now mentions how her family has been greatly affected by her cancer diagnosis.
The fundraiser implored, “If possible, kindly contribute/spread the word,” to enable Maddie to concentrate solely on proving her strength against cancer and overcoming it, and any contributions towards medical expenses would be immensely valued if you have the means to do so.
At St. Ambrose University, where she had previously attended as a student, Russo also delivered presentations regarding her alleged medical challenges and on the podcast “Project Purple.”
In a subsequent interview with the North Scott Press last year, Russo revealed that she was diagnosed with leukemia a few months later and then with pancreatic cancer on Feb. 10, 2022.
“I recall ending the call, and I was a wreck,” she informed the Iowa news source.
In the interview, Russo stated that she went through 15 cycles of chemotherapy and 90 cycles of radiation from February to October last year — all while managing to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA, working part-time, and playing golf during her free time.
Before discovering the massive growth on her spinal column, she stated that doctors gave her an 11% probability of surviving for five years.
“I sense as if I’ve been deeply affected to my core, and at this moment, everything is somewhat unclear,” she lamented.
In the middle of January, individuals asserting to be healthcare professionals reached out to the authorities, stating that they observed “numerous medical inconsistencies” in Russo’s social media updates discussing her experience with cancer. Eventually, her falsehoods were exposed.
The court documents cited by station KWQC allege that witnesses observed grave and potentially life-threatening errors in the placement of her medical equipment on her body.
Russo’s TikTok followers also observed that some of her medical equipment and its placement seen in her videos did not look right.
One TikTok user posted a photo of Russo smiling while a “chest port” and a gastrostomy tube were incorrectly applied, and her nose was pointing far too up.
During the course of a police investigation, detectives learned that Russo had stolen photos online to support her false claims and deceive her patients with real cancer.
As per the court documents, a substantial amount of evidence was discovered in Russo’s residence in Bettendorf. This evidence included an IV stand with a feeding pump containing cotton swabs, a hairpiece, and medication for preventing nausea that was prescribed under a family member’s name.
The medical records obtained by the police revealed that she had never been diagnosed with any form of tumor or cancer at any medical facility in the area where she was a patient.
After the exposure of Russo’s deceptive plan, GoFundMe banned her from utilizing their platform and reimbursed all individuals who had donated to her dishonest fundraising endeavor.