Tenn. Woman Accused of Elaborate Cancer Hoax

Authorities in one Tennessee town are investigating a local mother who they say duped them with an elaborate story into believing she had advanced breast cancer.

Keele Maynor, 37, a former Chattanooga city employee, was receiving money and a variety of services from a local hospital and several charity organizations after telling them she had breast cancer that had metastasized to her kidneys and lungs.

Pictures on various Web sites show her alternately with a bald head or very short hair, and she kept an online blog detailing her purported medical struggles.

"I know God has a reason for me to be here," Maynor wrote in an Aug. 2 blog entry. "I just don't always understand or like what I have to go through to stay here."

The community is "devastated," according to Rachel Houghton, executive director of the Chattanooga-based Helen DiStefano Fund, which provides financial assistance to mothers with cancer. "We all thought she was very, very sick."

Maynor has since quit her job as an office assistant with the city of Chattanooga's Land Development Office. In a resignation letter dated Dec. 12, she wrote, "I have been untruthful with the employees of the city of Chattanooga."

Maynor, a mother of three, could not be reached for comment. A male who answered the phone at her home said Maynor did live there but wasn't home, hanging up quickly. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

Houghton said Maynor was "sweet" and well-liked in the community.

"You would never know that she was faking," Houghton said.

Word got out that Maynor apparently did not have cancer when Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga contacted local charities warning them that Maynor had never been treated there as she had claimed, according to Houghton and other cancer charities.

Karen Sloan, Memorial's media relations coordinator, told ABCNews.com that Maynor "did not receive any therapy, treatment at Memorial Hospital."

Sloan said Maynor had been using free support services at the hospital since June 2007. The hospital, she said, provides cancer patients with support from nutritionists, educators and social workers.

But Sloan, who said the hospital was still investigating the situation, said privacy laws prevented her from commenting further on Maynor's activities at the hospital. She also declined to comment on how the hospital learned that Maynor may not have actually had breast cancer.

'Slap in the Face'

Houghton said the Helen DiStefano Fund has provided Maynor with financial assistance twice. The charity, which receives money through donations and proceeds from an on-site thrift store, was currently paying Maynor's rent, she said.

Houghton declined to elaborate on how much money Maynor may have received from the organization over the years but said the fund typically pays recipients between $500 and $1,000 a month to help with anything from medical bills and rent to utilities and day care.

Maynor was one of 10 mothers currently receiving assistance from the fund.

"For the families that are truly fighting this right now, it's a huge slap in the face," Houghton said.

Houghton said the fund received a letter from Maynor on Friday saying that she had lied about the cancer, offering to pay them back. That letter, Houghton said, was forwarded to the fund's attorney.

Richard Beeland, Chattanooga's media relations director, said Maynor had been employed by the city since 2002.

"Everyone was under the impression that she was ill," he said, adding that she resigned after she was approached by city officials who had been called by a local charity.

The city is now investigating any losses it or its employees may have incurred as a result.

"A number of employees have donated days off" to Maynor, Beeland said. "Some are angry. And some are upset. It's a very sad situation."

Maynor has been a fixture at local cancer benefits in the last several years, participating with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure branch and Memorial Hospital's Pink! -- a tribute to cancer patients.

Houghton said Maynor had also spoken to community groups about how the cancer had affected her life.

"Anything that has anything to do with cancer in this town has been affected by it," she said of Maynor's alleged deception.

Christina Koenig is the director of media relations at the national Breast Cancer Network of Strength. Maynor was involved with the Chattanooga branch, though Koenig declined to say specifically how.

"This is all kind of a big surprise for us," she said, adding that they were also notified by Memorial Hospital. "And we're kind of looking into things."

The Breast Cancer Network of Strength is now consulting with its lawyers.

"We want to make sure we take care of our donor dollars well," Koenig said. She could not say whether Maynor had received money from the network's donors.

An 'Elaborate Scheme'

Maynor's blog included two entries from October that detailed a trip to Florida where she stayed in the St. Augustine condo of a friend's associate. When contacted by ABCNews.com, that friend -- Patty Streip of Chattanooga -- said she had no comment.

"It was nice to get away, but I did come to a conclusion I cannot make trips like that in a car any longer if it is longer than four or five hours I will have to fly," Maynor wrote in a blog dated Oct. 22. "My body is exhausted from the drive."

Other blog entries over the last six months detail news that the cancer had continued to spread, that she was no longer a candidate for chemo and that she was on dialysis.

A Sept. 13 entry said that her oncologist had wanted to talk to her about hospice care.

"Mentally and emotionally, I feel like I am going crazy," she wrote, adding that she'd like to have some happiness "before I leave this world."

Ben Johnston, CEO of Hospice of Chattanooga, said his organization was called last week by charities looking to confirm that Maynor was a patient as she had claimed.

Johnston said Maynor had apparently been telling others that she was receiving hospice care there and that she was a patient of the medical director.

"She was neither," he said, adding that hospice's records were thoroughly checked and Maynor did not appear in any of them.

"I wouldn't understand why someone would make up a story that could be easily checked," Johnston said.

But it was a hoax that apparently went on for years. She had repeatedly claimed that she was diagnosed seven years ago.

Houghton said Maynor was able to pass a thorough screening process to receive money from the Helen DiStefano Fund, including an application signed by a doctor, tax records and even a phone call to the doctor's office.

Faking Cancer

"Somehow, in this whole elaborate scheme, she was able to fake all that," Houghton said.

This may not be Maynor's first run-in with the law.

In November 2000, a Keele Payne -- with the same middle name and birth date as Maynor -- pleaded guilty to one count of feloniously obtaining food stamps and one count of feloniously obtaining aid for a dependent child, according to Hamilton County, Tenn., criminal court records. Chattanooga is located in Hamilton County

The court clerk said Payne was given a one-year sentence, suspended for three years. She did not serve any time but was ordered to pay restitution on the food stamps charge.

Disappointed as the cancer community in Chattanooga is, Maynor's alleged scam isn't original.

A woman in Fayetteville, Ga., was charged in October, accused of lying to a support group about cancer and her son's death in Iraq to get more than $6,000. And in August, an Arizona man was charged with fraud after allegedly faking cancer as part of a $300,000 drug scam.

In January, Karen Johnson, 44, of Woodridge, Ill., pleaded guilty to stealing $16,000 from an investment firm after claiming she required chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.

ABC News' Sheelagh McNeill contributed to this report.