Dina Leone, an uninsured mother of two from Baltimore, reached out to old friends through Facebook telling them she had stage-four stomach cancer and asking for help.
In daily Internet posts and text messages starting in 2008, Leone, 37, they said, described the pain of treatments and the struggle to pay for chemotherapy, often asking old high school classmates to help pay for doctors' visits or to help in fulfilling dying wishes, like visiting Disneyland.
Friends say they spent countless hours on the phone and visiting Leone in person for more than a year, lending a thoughtful ear and shoulder to cry on. Some apparently sent her thousands of dollars to help pay for her treatment. One even said she flew her to California for a final trip to the theme park.
"Last year, I was laid up in a hospital bed at home for months because of complications from surgery," Leone wrote in an e-mail to Vicky Squires, another cancer patient living in the Baltimore area, whom she found on Facebook. "I had a nurse come out three times a week and friends over twice a [day] to change packing and bandages."
But all of it -- the hospital bed, the surgeries, the nausea from treatment, the hair loss from chemotherapy -- was a lie, according to prosecutors.
After a Baltimore County grand jury indicted Leone in November on charges of theft and conspiracy, officials released her last week on $25,000 bail. A date for a criminal trial has yet to be set for the former real estate agent who admitted to a local television station that she pretended to be sick to friends.
Leone began more than a year ago, allegedly reaching out to old classmates from Dundalk High School through the Internet, telling them she was dying and asking them for money.
"It was just sort of like, 'Oh, my God, we haven't seen you in forever, how are you' type of thing and she's like, 'Oh, I'm not good. I'm dying of stage-four stomach cancer right off the bat,'" former classmate Wendy Vargo told ABC News affiliate WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
During several months, however, the women became increasingly suspicious. Rather than losing her hair slowly in clumps, Leone seemed to have lost it all overnight. She sent a photo of her bald head to friends along with an appeal for money. When one friend offered to write a check to her doctor rather than to "cash," Leone allegedly became enraged and told the woman's friends to stop talking to her because Leone said the woman had made a pass at her husband.
Someone alerted police and an investigation began last summer. Authorities found no evidence corroborating Leone's cancer story, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case said.
"She made specific comments about receiving treatment in specific hospitals," Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe said. "We went to every area hospital to see if she was receiving treatment and they all said she wasn't a patient.
"When we executed a search warrant and searched her home, police found no medication or documentation that would indicate anyone living there was suffering from cancer. There was no physical or medical evidence at all," Lippe said.
In recent days, he said, he has been getting "more and more calls from more and more victims who sent her money." But the case for which Leone is being prosecuted is pinned to two women who say they sent her more than $12,000 in total.