BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An Alabama woman who duped kind-hearted donors into thinking she had cancer is headed to prison, a judge ordered Wednesday.
Jennifer Flynn Cataldo was sentenced to 25 months behind bars for fraudulently raising more than $260,000 by falsely portraying herself as a terminal cancer patient from 2014 to early May 2017, according to WHNT.
Cataldo pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud for using a false claim of terminal cancer to collect money from family and friends by using two GoFundMe accounts, Facebook, emails and text messages.
One of the GoFundMe fundraisers was titled “Mom has Terminal Cancer Disney Trip,” with the stated goal of raising $4,000 to take her young child to visit Disney before she died, according to prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town called Cataldo’s crime “reprehensible,” saying in a statement:
“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 fraudulently collected a total of $264,163 in checks and cash deposited into her personal checking account, according to her guilty plea.
“Crimes like this make good people think twice before they are willing to 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,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said. “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.”
A government sentencing document states that throughout Cataldo’s scheme, she was spending part of the money she obtained fraudulently to pay for 30 to 40 non-prescribed Percocet per day.
“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,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “It is imperative that we confront such criminal activities and that the offenders are stopped and punished.”
A federal judge also ordered Cataldo to pay $79,629 in restitution to her victims.