Woman Who Faked Cancer on TikTok Narrowly Avoids Jail Time

(NationalUSNews.com) — 20-year-old Madison Russo never had cancer. That didn’t stop people from believing her fabricated stories of lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer, and the football-sized tumor wrapped around her spine. She used TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, and GoFundMe to tell her heart-rending story, and 439 warm-hearted people donated. Although Russo had originally pleaded not guilty, in June she switched to a guilty plea to first-degree theft.

Russo’s heart-rending stories were featured in the North Scott Press newspaper, and she was asked to talk about her cancer at the National Pancreatic Foundation, St. Ambrose University, and on the Project Purple podcast. However, as her story evolved, medical professionals viewing her posts started to notice discrepancies. When she was arrested, police searching her apartment came across medical equipment such as an IV pole, IV tubes, and medical bandages. GoFundMe has since refunded the donations from the people she duped.

At her sentencing on Friday, October 20, Iowa Judge John Telleen handed down a 10-year suspended sentence with three years of probation for Russo. The ruling also includes conditions that she pays $39,000 in restitution, a $1,370 fine, and she must do 100 hours of community service. Kelly Cunningham, Scott County prosecutor, recommended against prison time for Russo because she had no criminal history, was employed, had good grades in college, and was unlikely to re-offend. Rhonda Miles, whose pancreatic cancer foundation in Nashville, Tennessee, donated to Russo’s scam, was devastated by what she sees as a “prosecuting attorney act like a defending attorney”.

Russo claims that she didn’t do this for money but rather to help bring together her fractured family. She added that she was only 18 years old when she started this and that the situation had “snowballed quickly and hard.” She has offered a public apology to her victims and stated that she regrets her actions. Russo’s defense asked for deferred judgment, but Judge Telleen asserted that “serious crimes must have serious consequences.” A deferred judgment would have the effect of wiping her record clean after successfully completing her probation. When he declined that petition, Judge Telleen said that people who deal with her in the future deserve to know about her “criminal scheme.”

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