Authorities say a 19-year-old woman scammed more than 400 donors, accumulating over $37,000, with false claims that she suffered from cancer, which she had allegedly touted on social media.
Madison Russo was charged with theft on Jan. 23, according to the Eldridge Police Department in Eldridge, Iowa.
According to the press release, Russo allegedly made false claims including that "she suffered acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer and a tumor the size of a football."
In an investigation, subpoenas for medical records were obtained and confirmed Russo has never been diagnosed with any kind of cancer or tumor from any medical facilities in the area.
- 1December 19, 2022
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Authorities confirmed to "Good Morning America" that they are using Russo's social media as evidence in her case, but will not confirm which social media.
A GoFundMe page was allegedly established on behalf of Russo and was highlighted in a local newspaper, and she was also a guest speaker at St. Ambrose University, the National Pancreas Foundation in Chicago and on a podcast for Project Purple, the press release said.
Authorities said witnesses "who have medical experience" worked with an investigating officer to find "medical discrepancies" in Russo's photos posted on her social media, discovering Russo allegedly accepted private donations from "other businesses, nonprofit organizations, school districts and private citizens."
ABC News medical contributor Dr. Darien Sutton reviewed some of Russo's photo posts and said, "You can see that the actual positioning of the port per se, is not accurate. Also, the way that it's secured, the type of tape that's used, it's not the same clinical tape that we would use in the hospital."
ABC News reached out to Russo regarding the allegations but has not received a response at this time.
The National Pancreas Foundation shared a statement with ABC News about the ongoing investigation.
"The National Pancreas Foundation does not condone the actions of Maddie Russo regarding her deceit to fraudulently secure donors for her false cancer diagnosis. There are thousands of patients, families and caregivers battling this terrible disease, and Ms. Russo's actions have taken away valuable resources from these patients," CEO David Bakelman said in a statement.
Similarly, GoFundMe told ABC News that it has a "zero tolerance policy for misuse" and is cooperating with law enforcement on 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 crowdfunding industry," GoFundMe said, in part, in a statement.
Louis Frillman was one of the many donors who had given money to the GoFundMe set up on behalf of Russo. His $500 donation was later refunded to him and afterward, he told ABC affiliate WQAD, "My thinking is, say a prayer for this young kid, because she is going to have a lot of terrible consequences as a result of this."
Police urged citizens and businesses who believe that they may have donated to Russo to contact the Eldridge Police Department.
Russo and her family have not responded to multiple requests for comment by ABC News. Following her arrest, Russo posted $10,000 bond and is now due in court next month.