Pennsylvania woman arrested for faking cancer and collecting $10K in GoFundMe, Facebook campaigns

The woman's husband is one of the people who turned her into police for fraud.

November 5, 2019, 6:39 PM

A Pennsylvania woman has been arrested for allegedly faking cancer to raise thousands of dollars in crowdfunding campaigns and falsifying medical documents, according to authorities.

Chester County resident Jessica Ann Smith, 31, allegedly created two fundraisers in June -- one on GoFundMe and the other on Facebook -- seeking donations to assist with medical bills and other related costs for a diagnosis of colon cancer, according to a criminal complaint filed last week.

"Jessica is facing tremendous medical bills, travel costs, paying for the care for her children and missed work," the GoFundMe campaign description read, according to the complaint.

The campaign was later removed from the site, and Jessica Smith was banned from the platform, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe told ABC News. It raised $4,735 since it was created on June 10.

The Facebook fundraiser, titled "#FightLikeAJessica," stated that she had recently been treated for colon cancer and required "extensive medical treatment and travel expenses plus unpaid time off work."

"Bills and care for her children don't stop," the campaign, which raised $8,553 of its $15,000 goal and has since been removed by Facebook, stated.

Jessica Ann Smith is seen in this undated police handout.
Chester County District Attorney's Office

The Facebook fundraiser received donations from 161 of the 16,000 people invited to the page since it was created on June 15.

Jessica Smith allegedly collected more than $10,000 in donations in total and does not have cancer, according to the complaint. She created the campaigns under her maiden name, Jessica Veronica Cornell, authorities said.

Authorities were notified of the fundraisers after her husband, Robert Smith, and an acquaintance reported the campaigns to the Uwchlan Township Police Department on June 19.

"To the best of her knowledge, she does not believe Jessica Smith has been diagnosed with cancer of any form," Uwchlan Township Det. Sgt. Steven Benson wrote in the criminal complaint, referring to the acquaintance.

On July 31, Robert Smith went to the police station to file a report alleging fraud by his wife, accusing her of obtaining funds from the GoFundMe and Facebook campaigns and depositing them into her bank account. He told police that, "to the best of his knowledge, his wife does not have cancer of any form and that she is covered on his medical insurance through his employer," the complaint reads.

He also provided copies of bank statements from the couple's joint checking account which showed "a continuous pattern of electronic deposits" coming into the account from ACH deposits through a PayPal Visa account, according to the complaint.

Robert Smith also recalled a recent telephone conversation he overheard in which his wife was allegedly claiming to be a nurse from "Penn Medicine" while speaking to a representative for her employer, Marco Protection Systems. Smith alleged that during the call, his wife stated that she was "very ill from a medical condition" and needed days off because she was "presently very ill from her cancer treatments."

A detective followed up with her employer and was informed that Jessica Smith was a full-time employee on paid time off due to illness. The employer also revealed that on that same day, July 31, Jessica Smith had taken off "because of the death of her father," according to the complaint.

The detective confirmed that Jessica Smith's father, David Cornell, was not dead and later learned that Jessica Smith had allegedly presented a copy of a death certificate to her employer as proof of his death, although the name on the document was not David Cornell, the complaint states.

Robert Smith also provided authorities with a document he found in his home that was purported to be signed by Sunil Saroha, a Penn Medicine doctor who practices out of Chester County Hospital, that states Jessica Smith suffers from tumors and colon cancer. Robert told the detective that the handwriting and signature on the paperwork were actually his wife's, according to the complaint.

When the detective called Saroha, he confirmed that Jessica Smith was a patient but said she was not suffering from any condition she was claiming, adding that he was "obviously aware" of the claims she was making, the complaint states.

On Sept. 12, Jessica Smith was invited to the police station to "discuss her concerns of online harassment and bullying," according to the complaint. Between July 31 and Aug. 22, Smith had made several reports to police detailing "online harassment" from people posting comments on her campaigns that described her as a fraud or not actually having cancer.

Police asked her about her medical diagnosis and treatment for cancer. Jessica Smith allegedly told authorities that she was diagnosed with colon cancer in May and that was she was currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

PHOTO: A patient uses a laptop while in the hospital in this stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Shutterstock

She also allegedly said that she had 16 inches of her colon removed showing a "non-descript document" that indicated she underwent surgery. That document allegedly showed a "balance due" of more than $81,000 according to the complaint.

Jessica Smith is charged with theft by deception and other theft-related counts. She was arraigned and released on her own recognizance and will appear for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 12, according to WPVI.

Later that day, Saroha confirmed to police that Jessica Smith was not receiving any treatment other than iron infusions for anemia, the complaint states.

"She took advantage of people's generosity and everyone's worse fear of a cancer diagnosis to get money for herself," Mike Noone, acting district attorney for Chester County, told ABC Philadelphia station WPVI.

Noone said the people who turned her in "did the right thing."

Jessica Smith's attorney, Michael D. DiCindio, declined to provide a comment to ABC News.

A GoFundMe spokesperson told ABC News that the campaign was reported as fraudulent and that it is working with law enforcement in the investigation. All of the funds will be refunded to the donors in full.

"In general, if someone fabricates a medical diagnosis or other circumstances in hopes of raising money, their fraudulent behavior will ultimately be reported and appropriate action will be taken," the GoFundMe spokeswoman said.

"Based on the current investigation we believe that this fundraiser violated our terms," said a spokesperson from Facebook in a comment to ABC News. "The fundraiser is now removed, and is no longer visible to anyone on Facebook, including the person who created it. Refunds will be processed for all donors, and they will receive a notification when the refund is issued. People can also check their payment history for confirmation of the refund.”