DAVENPORT, IA (Associated Press) — An Iowa woman who falsely claimed to have cancer and documented her “battle” on social media will stay out of prison after a judge gave her probation and a suspended sentence.
Madison Russo, 20, never had pancreatic cancer, leukemia nor the football-sized tumor wrapped around her spine she that claimed in postings on TikTok, GoFundMe, Facebook and LinkedIn. But over 400 people sent her donations. As part of the 10-year suspended sentence handed down Friday, she was ordered to pay $39,000 in restitution and a $1,370 fine. If she stays out of trouble for three years of probation, she’ll stay free.
The Bettendorf woman pleaded guilty in June to first-degree theft. In court on Friday, Judge John Telleen declined a defense request that would have wiped the conviction off her record if she completes probation successfully. He said people who deal with her in the future should know that she once engaged in a “criminal scheme,” and that “serious crimes must have serious consequences.”
Russo told the court she made her story up because she hoped her fake cancer battle would force her troubled family to focus on her.
Her sentence also includes 100 hours of community service. She paid the $39,000 restitution earlier, and the money was being held by the court. GoFundMe has already sent refunds to donors.
Her scam unraveled when medical professionals spotted discrepancies in her story online. Police subpoenaed her medical records and found she had never been diagnosed with cancer at any medical facility in the area. She was arrested in January.