Beauty Queen Sentenced for Stealing $30K, Some from Dying Donors, in Fake Cancer Scam

Brandi Weaver-Gates, 24, was sentenced Tuesday to two to four years in prison for multiple counts of theft, officials tell PEOPLE

Photo: Pennsylvania State Police

A Pennsylvania beauty queen who shaved her head and faked having leukemia – bilking sympathetic and sometimes dying donors out of thousands of dollars – was sentenced to state prison Tuesday, PEOPLE has confirmed.

Former Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International pageant winner Brandi Weaver-Gates, 24, of State College, was sentenced to two to four years in a state correctional facility, followed by five years of probation, for multiple charges of theft by deception and receiving stolen property, says Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

Authorities say Weaver-Gates tricked more than 150 people into donating nearly $30,000 through various fundraising events she organized. The most recent one, “Bingo for Brandi,” was held in April 2015, where Weaver-Gates raked in $14,000.

Her attorney has said she carried out her scheme because “she wanted attention,” according to Miller, which Weaver-Gates reportedly told a judge as well – but Miller rebukes that, telling PEOPLE the motive was “plain greed and selfishness.”

“She wasn’t working. She was living off the money,” Miller says. “She had a psychological evaluation and nothing was wrong.”

Weaver-Gates must repay the nearly $30,000 as part of her sentence, authorities say.

In June, Weaver-Gates pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by unlawful taking and four counts of receiving stolen property, Miller says.

Weaver-Gates has spent almost a year in jail since her August 2015 arrest and arraignment on charges of theft by deception and receiving stolen property, which will be credited toward her sentence, authorities say.

At Tuesday’s sentencing, Miller advocated for a state sentence for Weaver-Gates “since her callousness evidenced an unusually cruel scheme to defraud people who were at their most vulnerable, friends and relatives of real cancer survivors,” Miller tells PEOPLE.

She pointed out that “the attention, charity work and money that went to her was stolen from real warriors battling cancer, some who have in fact since passed.”

She told the court that “the defendant literally stole from dying people.”

The Victims – and the Victimizer – Speak Out

At Tuesday’s sentencing, friends of people in the community who were battling cancer addressed the court – some breaking down as they recounted how Weaver-Gates took money from loved ones who have since died.

“They compared their loved ones’ real struggle to her fake one, and shared a hope that Centre County would not be jaded by her scheme for those who are really in need,” Miller tells PEOPLE.

Friends of Weaver-Gates also addressed the court, talking about “the sacrifices they had made as a result of her scheme and the embarrassment and regret they felt at going door to door and being unknowingly complicit in her scheme,” Miller says.

She asked the court to return the money in Weaver-Gates’ bank accounts to the victims, now that Weaver-Gates has been sentenced.

Miller she she’d frozen the assets in those accounts “since jail calls early on revealed [Weaver-Gates] and her father were discussing how to give him power of attorney over those accounts so he could empty them.”

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In a statement to the court Tuesday, Weaver-Gates told both the victims and the cancer survivors she duped that she was sorry.

“She acknowledged she had been a phony and admitted she got in too deep and was too afraid to come clean,” Miller says.

Weaver-Gates pledged to pay everyone back and said that she wanted to be held accountable for her actions, Miller says.

A Sick Scheme

In November 2015, Rockview police were notified that Weaver-Gates was holding events to raise money for cancer, according to a statement by the district attorney. But an anonymous tipster told authorities that Weaver-Gates was faking the cancer – and was in fact stealing the funds from those who donated to her.

Starting in March 2013, Weaver-Gates told friends and family, including her sister, that she was receiving treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia at various hospitals, such as Johns Hopkins, according to the DA’s statement.

Weaver-Gates “allegedly carried out her scheme over the course of two years and went as far as shaving her head and having family members drive her to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to get ‘faux’ treatment,” according to the statement.

Weaver-Gates kept up her ruse by walking around inside the hospital and then emerging “as if she had treatment and was caught on camera wandering the halls,” the statement says. “She used a wheelchair at times and even had people carry her over the finish line of a race, pretending to be fatigued from her disease and posted it on Facebook.”

While do-gooders raised money door-to-door for her, and threw fundraisers in her name, the district attorney says those close to Weaver-Gates began to grow suspicious of her diagnosis. She insisted on receiving her treatments alone and maintaining her own bank account where the funds were being deposited.

When asked about her treatments, Weaver-Gates did not know the name of her physicians, DA Miller says.

“People noticed that she would shave her head, but the hair would grow back,” Miller says.

“It was then that the hospitals were contacted about her treatments but there was no record of Defendant being treated or ever being a patient,” Miller says.

After Weaver-Gates’ arrest, police asked anyone who believed they may have been her victim to come forward.

In a 2015 statement, Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International announced that Weaver-Gates had been stripped of her crown and sash.

“We were also led to believe that she was dealing with this horrible disease and stood by her as she struggled being a beauty queen and a cancer patient,” the statement read.

“When you deceive the public and take people’s money that is under the pretense of fraud, we will not tolerate those actions.”

Miller calls Weaver-Gates’ scheme “the ultimate betrayal of our giving community and those people who actually battle cancer and their loved ones.”

“She actually stole that time and money from giving people who were actually suffering from cancer, some of who lived near her and have since passed,” Miller says. “I only hope this singular incident by a selfish person will not dampen [the community’s] endless capacity for helping those in need.”

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