Authors: Aaron Goldberg
Tags: #Taled of Real Life Disney Scandals, #Accidents and Deaths, #Sex
Dying for Disney
What could be more sick, twisted and appalling than lying to your friends and loved ones about having cancer? How about pulling the same hellacious ruse with your child. For most people it is unfathomable to fake cancer; it would be even more diabolical to tell people your child has cancer and the little one is going to die, or even going as far as having your child believe this as well. Forcing them shave their head and alter their appearance to go along with this terrible act of deceit.
Most people, when they hear a friend or loved one has a terminal illness, react accordingly with devastation, heart wrenching compassion, and a willingness to do anything to make their remaining days as tolerable and filled with love and joy as possible.
They organize fundraisers to help with medical bills and encourage them to go on a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, urging them to have one of those magical days despite the looming cancer diagnosis. These actions and reactions are exactly what happen when people fake illnesses for donations. Donations that often lead to trips to Disney that are just part of an evil stratagem for greed, attention and a vacation.
Unfortunately, you hear about these stories from all over the country. People get diagnosed with cancer or a fatal illness and the community springs into action, as they should; fundraisers, beef-and-beer parties, you name it. Friends and family come together to help this person in need.
More and more, the stories are popping up that some twisted folks aren’t really sick at all and sought out this attention and money for illnesses they never had. The scam always works, at least for a short time. The conscience-less people ultimately end up being revealed as the frauds they are. In the end they do get the attention they were seeking. They receive notoriety in the news when their antics put them through the legal system and often into prison.
So why do thousands of people fall for this over and over again? I think this is the easier question to answer than the one of “why do people perpetrate this heinous act?” These illnesses strike at the core of us. Everyone at some point in their life has had someone close to them get diagnosed with cancer or some other terrible illness. We see the destruction and devastation illnesses do, not only mentally but also physically. If pitching in a little bit may help this person, society in general is all for it. With that being said, where do many people go to escape reality and leave the “real world” behind with all its stresses and pressures, let alone a terminal illness? Disneyland or Walt Disney World.
If you can’t afford your next Disney vacation, just follow the lead of these despicable folks and fake an illness to receive a free trip. In turn, you actually may end up getting two free trips, one to the mouse house and the other to the “big house,” aka prison.
Men seem to be the anomalies in these stunts, so let’s get started there. Jeffrey, forty-six years old and from South Jordan, Utah, told friends and family he was suffering from terminal cancer. The local Mormon congregation heard of Jeffrey’s plight and organized a fundraiser on his behalf. The money raised went to Jeffrey so he and his family could go on one “final” vacation together to Disney. The family set out on Jeffrey’s farewell tour in September of 2011. After people became suspicious of his story, detectives checked his medical records and determined he didn’t have cancer and wasn’t terminally ill. He was arrested and charged with felony communications fraud.
Our first deceptive young lady was then twenty-three-year-old Ashley from Toronto, Canada. She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes and starved herself to have her physical appearance coincide with her “chemotherapy sessions.” If that wasn’t enough to pull on your heartstrings, Ashley would update her illness status on Facebook and post photos with a big smile and fake tattoos emblazoned on her fingers that said “won’t” on hand and “quit” on the other.
Life was tough for young Ashley, as she was not only staring down the big “C,” she was doing it alone. She frequently told people she was disowned by her drug addicted parents or they were dead. The reality was, she didn’t have cancer and she had parents, supportive parents. They were divorced and both remarried, with three young children between them.
Why did she do it? Ashley said, “I was trying to be noticed. I was trying to get my family back together. I didn’t want to feel like I’m nothing anymore. It went wrong, it spread like crazy, and then it seemed like the whole world knew.”
The whole world knew indeed, because she told them. In late 2008, Ashley did have a medical issue. She had a benign lump in one of her breasts, had a procedure for it and all was well. Except she began telling anyone that would listen that things weren’t well. Ashley said she had breast, brain, liver, stomach and ovarian cancer, in various stages. Poor Ashley, she was really brave for dealing with such adversity with such a positive outlook. This is what her peers thought about her. Teenagers and young adults from all over embraced her. They organized benefits and concerts for her. Printed t-shirts and made online videos all in an effort to keep her optimism up and help provide for her during this dire time.
Ashley also formed her own charity. A Facebook page was created to get the word out about Change for Cure (meaning your pocket change can help fund a cure for cancer or at least line her pockets) with the tagline, “Together we can ‘Change’ the world one penny at a time.” The cash donations started rolling in, and within two days the Facebook group had 1,000 members and months later, over 4,000.
At the concerts held in her benefit, Ashley set up Change for a Cure booths to collect donations, in addition to the $10 or $20 cover fee to enter. All of the money Ashley raised was going to be donated to the University of Alberta’s research into dichloroacetate, DCA, a cancer treatment. Once she had collected all the money, she said she would walk from Burlington to Edmonton, Canada, starting on her twenty-third birthday, to deliver the money in person to the university. Keep in mind that Canada’s health care system is different than America’s; most of the cost of the cancer treatments in the country is covered under the Canada Health Act of 1984. So her fundraising wasn’t going to cover her exuberant medical bills, as is often the case in the states.
Even local companies contributed, as did the local skateboard community and charities. One such charity was Skate4Cancer, led by skateboarder Rob Dyer. Rob lost his mother and two grandparents to cancer. He launched this group as a cancer awareness organization. Ashley wanted to go to Walt Disney World; it could be her last opportunity to visit Florida. She persuaded Skate4Cancer to foot the bill for her trip. When she returned back from her trip, she informed everyone she had contracted an infection and was going to die soon.
Ashley was good. She may have missed her calling in theatre; everyone believed her story. Young people get diagnosed with cancer every day in this world, but there was one person who wasn’t sure if the story was accurate, yet he too vacillated, and that was Ashley’s father. Speaking only to her father once in the previous four years, she told him she had breast cancer and a brain tumor. If she didn’t get a bone marrow transplant, she would be gone within six months. Her father thought it was another one of her “stories” and went along for the ride. The next day, he followed up with Ashley to find out the name of her oncologist to be informed of her condition and care.
After trying for ten days to reach her, Ashley finally responded and told him to “Stay the f--- out of my life.” He stayed away from Ashley but called the hospitals where Ashley said she was being treated for cancer; there was no record of her. Skeptical but still not certain, he followed her on Facebook, along with thousands of other people.
Finally, he was able to get the truth out of her. He reached out to her on the phone repeatedly. They connected one evening and as he recounts, “I said flat out: ‘You don’t have cancer, do you?’ There was silence on the phone and she very quietly responded: ‘No.’” He then gave her thirty days to go public with her admission and clear the air and make things right.
Ashley did one interview with the Toronto Star to come clean, only after her father’s ultimatum. In her interview she claimed she only received $5,000 worth of contributions. Volunteers say otherwise; they put it in the neighborhood of $30,000.
She did offer up this quote in the interview: “I dug myself a big hole that I couldn’t get out of,” Ashley said. “And there’s nobody to blame but me.”
Ashley was arrested on charges of theft and received ten months under house arrest, followed by five months with a curfew requiring her to stay home between 10:00
. and 6:00
. She also received two years of probation and community service, along with psychiatric treatment for a personality disorder, depression, and anxiety. All of which most likely led to her lenient sentence, as she could have faced up to fourteen years in prison for her crimes.
Two similar stories to Ashley’s took place south of the border in the good old U.S.A. Heather, thirty-five years old, from Racine, Wisconsin bilked thousands of good folks out of their hard-earned money through donations and fundraisers over a period of years from 2001-2004. Even the local newspaper ran a story on her. The Racine Journal Times ran the headline: "Facing her battle with a smile.” It recounted Heather’s bravery in her battle against a rare form of ovarian cancer. She told reporters she had surgery to remove her right ovary and uterus, only having to go under the knife a few weeks later to remove her kidney and shoulder muscle as more tumors were discovered.
Donning a scarf over her baldhead, Heather spoke of not only her physical and emotional battle, but also her financial battle. She detailed the enormous medical bills she faced as her health insurance only partially covered her care, cue the fundraisers. Reporters covering one of her events quoted Heather, "It doesn't necessarily have to do with the money. It's the love and support shown by everyone. It's spiritually uplifting."
The money certainly didn’t hurt though, and she took upwards of $75,000 over the years. She spent it on renovations to her kitchen, new household appliances and a new roof. There was also that dying wish for a trip to Walt Disney World.
For Heather, as with most perpetrators, it’s hard to keep up the rouse of dying without actually dying or wasting away. Eventually, something has to give and when death or diminished health doesn’t happen, people start to get suspicious, which is what happened in Heather's case. Those who worked hard on her fundraisers became leery of her illness. They contacted police, who did their due diligence on her case. She stuck to her story. She arranged for her physician to call the sheriff’s detective. Even had another physician write a letter in support of her and her condition. Both the phone call and letter were fraudulent; she never had cancer. Heather was arrested on three felony counts of false representation and was later sentenced to two years in prison in 2005.
If these few stories weren’t bad enough, here come the tales about mothers claiming their children were dying of cancer and their need to go to Disney with their terminally ill kids. All of the situations are very unfortunate and it appears as though the mothers operated not only for attention but also for greed. Thankfully, the mothers didn’t do any damage to their children physically, as the mental ramifications of their actions were more than enough. Without further ado, mother-of-the-year candidate number one:
In 2003, thirty-five-year-old Lisle from Chicago, Illinois told family and friends her seven-year-old son was terminally ill with eye cancer that spread to his brain. People around the community donated thousands of dollars to her when she announced she wanted to take her sick son to Walt Disney World for a long weekend. The trip was going to be a treat in light of everything he was going through. Donations came in from jars placed around town with a picture of the little boy on it. Even his elementary school held fundraisers in his behalf. The story started to fall apart when the little guy went back to school and his teachers started to prepare his coursework for an expected long absence. The teachers reached out to his physician, only to be told there was not a patient with that name under his care.
Once the State Department of Child Services contacted Lisle, she immediately confessed to her actions. Lisle was charged with theft by deception, seven felony charges, and one misdemeanor for theft of over $12,000. Lisle faced up to seven years in prison. She accepted a plea deal that put her on two years probation, she had to attend counseling, write a letter of apology to her son's school, and pay back the money she accepted, all of which prosecutors believe she spent at Walt Disney World.
The next mother didn’t fare as well in the legal department. Stephanie, twenty-two years old, of Wetumpka, Alabama was sentenced to twenty years in prison; yes, that’s 2-0 years. In 2010, Stephanie claimed her five-year-old son had cancer. The usual fundraisers happened, along with collection jars set up at convenience stores and gas stations. Multiple businesses pitched in to specifically send her and her son on a trip to Walt Disney World—it was his dying wish. Who could say no to this? Especially seeing Stephanie parading her son around in public in a wheelchair. Like all of the others, the story started to fall apart.
In May of 2013, Stephanie pleaded guilty to theft of property by deception and attempted theft of property by deception, to which she was sentenced to ten years in prison on each account, with the sentences to run consecutively. The sentences were handed down despite her attorney’s pleas that Stephanie was only fourteen years old when she gave birth to her son and was ill equipped to raise the child. The amount of money she pleaded guilty to stealing was a total of $1,400.
Saving what is the worst case for last—if you can quantify any of the horrific acts. This story happened across the pond in England. Thirty-six-year-old Emma from Stroud, Gloucestershire, convinced her husband, her son, community (she also announced it on Facebook), and government, that her six-year-old boy was diagnosed with a fatal autoimmune disease, lymph proliferative syndrome—an often fatal blood disorder.