Iowa College Student Allegedly Faked Cancer Diagnosis, Scammed Hundreds
A 19-year-old Iowa college student allegedly defrauded over 400 donors after raising more than $37,000 by faking a triple cancer diagnosis.
Over the course of several months, Madison “Maddie” Russo, a 19-year-old Iowa woman, documented her faux battle with what she said was three forms of cancer on TikTok and GoFundMe. During that time, she took in over $37,000 from over 400 unsuspecting donors, according to the Eldridge Police Department.
Russo claimed to have pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and a football-sized tumor on her spine. According to KWQC, she was a guest speaker for several organizations such as St. Ambrose University and the OHL Foundation under these alleged false pretenses. PEOPLE reported that she made several TikTok videos about her “fight” with cancer, and she even shared a photograph of herself with a dog wearing a purple “Team Maddie” bandana.
Russo did an interview in October 2022 with The North Scott Press in which she gave details about treatments and spoke of her outlook on life while she claimed to be fighting cancer. The alleged con artist claimed she underwent 15 rounds of oral chemotherapy and 90 rounds of radiation, and she said she was given an 11-percent survival rate for five years. She also said that the worst morning of her life was when she got the call saying she had cancer while attending class.
Things began to fall apart in the scam when medical professionals came forward to point out the disturbing discrepancies in photos Russo posted of her treatments, according to CBS News.
KWQC reported that police conducted a search on Russo’s Bettendorf apartment after obtaining a warrant to do so. They seized bank records, a wig, an IV pole with a feeding pump that was filled with cotton balls, medical supplies, a gray 2023 Kia Sportage, and more as part of their investigation into the scam.
The Eldridge Police Department said Russo was arrested on Jan. 23 for theft by means of deceptions, a Class C felony that’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Russo was released from the Scott County Jail just hours after her arrest when a $10,000 cash bond was posted on her behalf. Her arraignment is scheduled to take place at the Scott County Courthouse on March 2.
According to WQAD, Thomas Bouland, who organized the GoFundMe page for Russo and bailed her out of jail, has since closed down the fundraising page. GoFundMe has since refunded the donors, too.
GoFundMe said in a statement to Our Quad Cities, “GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. All donors have been refunded and we have removed this fundraiser. The organizer has also been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers.”
The Eldridge Police Department requests that those who donated to Russo contact them at 563-285-3916 or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.