An Alabama woman who duped family and friends into believing she had terminal cancer and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through GoFundMe pages was sentenced to jail on Wednesday, after she pleaded guilty in August to two charges stemming from the case.
Jennifer Flynn Cataldo, who collected a total of $264,163 in checks and cash from donors, falsely portrayed she had terminal cancer from 2014 to May 2017, WHNT reported. One of the two GoFundMe accounts that the 37-year-old benefitted from was titled, “Mom has Terminal Cancer Disney Trip,” and had a goal of $4,000.
Cataldo pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud, and was sentenced to 25 years behind bars by U.S. District Judge Virginia Hopkins. She was also ordered to pay restitution to her victims.
“This defendant’s conduct was reprehensible,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said, according to WHNT. “For more than two years she engaged in an elaborate scheme that preyed upon the sympathy and generosity of her friends and family. Not only did she fake cancer to take their money, she used her minor child as part of her ruse and allowed the child to believe his mother was dying. She has earned every nickel of her punishment.”
Cataldo’s attorney argued that after the woman’s brother died, she developed a painkiller addiction and partly used the money to fuel her habit.
“I wish that I could put into words exactly how I feel…” Cataldo said at her sentencing, according to AL.com. “I am overcome with sorrow. They trusted me, they loved me… I was deceitful and I lied. I’m sorry. I don’t know a better word than sorry.”
The former special education teacher is facing two first-degree theft charges pending in Shelby County, and will have to serve three years of probation and complete mental and drug health counseling upon her release, AL.com reported.