What to Know
- Jessica Cornell Smith, 32, was arrested Monday and charged with theft by deception-false impression and receiving stolen property.
- Smith is accused of lying about having cancer in order to scam donors out of more than $10,000 on GoFundMe and Facebook.
- Smith also allegedly lied about her father's death in order to get a day off work.
A Chester County, Pennsylvania, woman is accused of pretending to have cancer, impersonating a doctor and nurse and lying about her own father dying in an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of dollars from donors on GoFundMe and Facebook.
Jessica Cornell Smith, 32, of Uwchlan Township, was arrested Monday and charged with theft by deception-false impression and receiving stolen property.
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Earlier in the year, Smith created a GoFundMe and Facebook page claiming she was diagnosed with Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) and was receiving treatment from oncology specialists at the "Abraham Cancer Center” at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The actual name of the facility is the Abramson Cancer Center.
Through her pages, Smith claimed she was facing tremendous medical bills, travel costs and other payments related to child care and missed work. She also said her insurance coverage held a $15,000 deductible.
Smith managed to raise over $10,000 through her fundraisers which she deposited to her TD bank accounts, investigators said. But with the increased donations also came skepticism.
"She was very vague about her diagnosis and treatment and really suggestive photos, like a selfie on the bathroom floor, 'about to give up on life but also please donate to my GoFundMe,'" Terri Coleman, Smith’s high school friend, told NBC10.
Coleman brought Smith on as a guest on her podcast "Ever Evolving Truth" over the summer. During the interview, Smith defended herself against her detractors.
"If anyone straight up came up to me and was like, 'I think you’re faking this,' I literally would say, 'Okay, you’re coming to chemo with me on Monday,'" Smith said during the interview.
Police began to investigate on June 19 when a friend of Smith and her husband filed a report, claiming they didn’t believe she had cancer. Smith’s husband visited Uwchlan Township Police on July 31 and accused his wife of committing fraud, according to investigators.
While speaking to police, Smith’s husband provided evidence showing that she was covered under his insurance and that her medical bills had not reached the $1,250 medical deductible, investigators said. Her husband also did not have any insurance records, statements or documents that indicated his wife was being treated for any form of cancer, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Smith allegedly pretended to be a nurse with Penn Medicine, telling her real employer — a Chester County fire protection company — that she needed days off in order to receive cancer treatments. She also told her bosses that her father had died, allowing her to take off on July 31, investigators said. Police determined her father was actually alive and that Smith had presented a copy of a death certificate that didn’t match her father’s name.
“She lied about her own father’s death,” Chester County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone said. “Essentially just to get a day off from work.”
Smith is also accused of forging a Penn Medicine doctor's signature on a letter stating she was suffering from tumors and colon cancer, investigators said.
While police were probing the fraud allegations against Smith, she went to investigators herself, claiming she was being harassed and bullied online by people who were accusing her of lying about having cancer.
During an interview with investigators in September, Smith provided several documents which she claimed showed proof of her chemotherapy treatment as well as a procedure in which she had "sixteen inches of her colon removed," authorities said.
A police review of the documents uncovered that Smith never received chemotherapy treatment and never had part of her colon removed, investigators said. She actually received iron infusions for anemia.
Based on their investigation, police determined Smith lied about her cancer diagnosis. She was arrested and arraigned on Monday and is currently out on bail. She’s scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 12.
A spokesperson for GoFundMe told NBC10 they’re working with law enforcement to return the money to everyone who donated. It’s unclear if the money Smith received through her Facebook page can be returned to the donors.