A New Jersey mom allegedly faked terminal cancer and profited through fundraisers, an ebook about her struggle and rallied supporters to pay for her wedding as a dying wish. Her sister discovered and exposed the fraud.
Lori Stilley, 40, was arrested on Wednesday in Delran, N.J., and charged with theft by deception. She has been released on a $25,000 bail.
Stilley allegedly told her family and friends in February 2011 that she had been diagnosed with Stage III bladder cancer and would be undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
She posted frequently about her struggle on Facebook and on her own website, but was guarded about her supposed treatment, refusing to let loved ones join her for doctor appointments or treatment.
"She never let anyone go to the doctor with her. She had said that she just wanted to do this alone," Stilley's sister Lisa DiGiovanni told ABCNews.com. "I had really never pressed her, but thinking back, I wish I did."
DiGiovanni had been "completely devastated" by the news of her only sister's illness, and spear headed the efforts for fundraising and supporting Stilley.
A T-shirt campaign rasied more than $8,400 and a cash raffle raised an additional $1,000.
In April 2011, Stilley told her sister that her cancer had become Stage IV. Stilley told DiGiovanni to post the news on Facebook, but not to tell their parents. DiGiovanni found this strange, but did as her sister asked.
"She had said to me, 'There are only two things that I want: to turn 40 and to marry Bill,' who was her then-boyfriend," DiGiovanni said. "So I said to her that I can't make October come any faster, but I can plan a wedding."
With help from friends and the community, DiGiovanni planned the wedding in 10 days and Stilley wed her then-boyfriend. She wrote an ebook about her struggle with cancer, the sale of which generated more than $3,000.
"The gifts Stilley received were not just financial," the prosecutor's office said in a statement. "A friend created a meal calendar that was posted on Stilley's website that enabled people to prepare and deliver meals for Stilley. Dates were scheduled months in advance by people who committed to make and drop off dinners."
Stilley told loved ones that she was entering hospice in November 2011, telling her 7-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter that she was going to die, DiGiovanni said.
"She sat down and she told them that she was going to become an angel," DiGiovanni said.
On the day Stilley was supposed to enter hospice, she said the hospice workers had come and then left because her blood pressure was normal and she had started to feel better, her sister said. She posted on Facebook that a miracle was happening and her tumors were disappearing.
"That moment is when I just knew, I felt in my heart that she had made it all up and and a lot of other people felt the same way," DiGiovanni said. "As people would question her, she would unfriend them and her husband would threaten them."
DiGiovanni confronted her sister.
"I said I wanted to go with her [to her next doctor's appointment] because it didn't make any sense to me and she got pretty mad at me," she said. "You're not allowed to question her."
When DiGiovanni was convinced her sister was faking the cancer, she said she felt a responsibility to go to the police.
"Everything I've done has been out of love," she said. "I just felt that I had to do something."
DiGiovanni's decision has divided her family.
"My dad says that I went against the family, but what I did was out of love for my sister and trying to protect my niece and my nephew," she said. DiGiovanni said her parents have been led to believe that she is the one who is lying and that Stilley is really sick.
DiGiovanni is unsure if Stilley's husband knew what was going on.
"In the beginning, I can't imagine that he did know because he was just as depressed and devastated as we were," she said. "I think he's in protect mode, but I really wish I knew what he knew."
Joel Bewley, spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, said that neither Stilley's husband nor anyone else has been charge in connection to the crime, but he could not comment on whether other charges may be forthcoming.
"Yesterday when I saw her mug shot on the Internet, I ended up in tears," DiGiovanni said. "I still love my sister to death and I really wish that somebody would give her the help that she needs."
DiGiovanni said her sister has no history of mental illness and she has puzzled over why she would do this.
"Clearly, this is not something that in her normal state of mind that she would do," she said. "I don't think this had anything to do with financial gain, just a means of getting attention. I almost think she doesn't know what she's doing. I think the attention has been so addictive that she can't even stop it."
Neither Stilley nor her attorney responded to request for comment.