An Alabama woman will spend 25 months in prison for raising more than $260,000 by fraudulently portraying herself as a terminal cancer patient from 2014 to early May 2017, PEOPLE confirms.
According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Jennifer Flynn Cataldo collected a total of $264,163 from donors. She allegedly created GoFundMe accounts and social media pages that said she was dying of cancer and needed money for medical expenses.
She pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and bank fraud. She has been ordered to pay restitution to her victims.
In court, defense attorney Adam Danneman said Cataldo was a former special education teacher who had trouble coping with her brother’s 2014 death. He said that she developed a painkiller addiction and used some of the money to feed her habit. “Her brother died, and she gave up,” Danneman told the court.
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But prosecutors portrayed her as a manipulator. “This defendant’s conduct was reprehensible,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said, according to WHNT. “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.”
A contrite Cataldo addressed the court at her sentencing. “I am overcome with sorrow,” she said, according to AL.com. “They trusted me, they loved me. I was deceitful and I lied. I’m sorry. I don’t know a better word than sorry.”
After her release, Cataldo will serve three years of probation and complete mental and drug health counseling. Her attorney did not return PEOPLE’s call for comment.
This conviction is in Federal Court. Cataldo also faces two first-degree theft charges in county court.