A woman who faked cancer and duped hundreds into donating $37,000 says she did it 'to get my family back together'

GoFundMe screenshot of Madison Russo campaign
  • Madison Russo, 20, documented her cancer journey and fundraiser for treatment on social media.

  • She raised over $37,000. The only problem — her cancer wasn't real.

  • Russo pleaded guilty to first-degree theft and must repay the money.

A TikToker who was convicted of faking cancer and collecting $37,000 in donations said at her sentencing that she did it "in an attempt to get my family back together."

Madison Russo, 20, of Bettendorf, Iowa, received three years probation and a 10-year suspended sentence after lying about having cancer on social media to raise money, the Associated Press reported. She will also be required to pay over $39,000 in restitution and a $1,370 fine, per the outlet.

Russo raised donations on GoFundMe from over 400 people, telling her friends, family, and followers that she had pancreatic cancer, acute undefined leukemia, and a "football-sized tumor" wrapped around her spine, Insider previously reported. Russo would often share details about her alleged illness via her now-deleted TikTok account.


In June, she admitted to the court that she had faked her illness and pleaded guilty to first-degree theft.

In a video of the sentencing posted to YouTube by local ABC affiliate WQAD News 8, Scott County Judge John Telleen said Russo began the "elaborate scheme" in February 2022.

"You deceived your friends, your family, your community, other cancer victims, charities, and strangers who were motivated by your supposedly tragic story," he continued. "My initial reaction, quite frankly, was this lengthy cause of deceit was motivated by greed, or perhaps social media fame. I am not quite confident as I was walking in here that that is the case, but it is abundantly the case that this was not an isolated or momentary lapse in judgment."

In January, anonymous witnesses began to report inconsistencies in her stories to the Eldridge Police Department, and after speaking with medical witnesses, police subpoenaed her medical records, which did not show any cancer diagnosis, according to AP. Court records show that upon searching Russo's home, police found items that supported her fake cancer claims, including a wig, an IV bag, feeding pumps, and wound dressings, local NBC affiliate KWQC reported in January.

"At any step along that way, you could have stopped," Telleen told Russo during sentencing. "It did not stop until you were caught."

During her 7-minute sentencing statement, Russo said she prays for those hurt by her "irrational decision" and the damage that has resulted from her actions.

"I didn't do this for money or greed. I didn't do this for attention. I did this in an attempt to try to get my family back together," she said. "I come from an extremely broken and separated family ever since I was two years old and over the years, it has gotten steadily worse."

However, an evaluation completed by a court-appointed psychologist found no history of childhood trauma in Russo's past, WQAD reported.

As well as restitution payments, Telleen sentenced Russo to 100 hours of community service and three years probation.

"Serious crimes must have serious consequences to deter both you and others from such crimes in the future," Telleen said during sentencing. He added that this false campaign could cause others to hesitate to donate to those in need for fear that it may be a scam.

A spokesperson for GoFundMe told Insider in February that people have been refunded their donations and that Russo has been permanently banned from the platform.

It's common for people to use online fundraising platforms to solicit donations for medical bills, although it sometimes results in backlash from followers who think high-profile influencers don't need the financial help. In 2019, Rob Solomon, who was the CEO of GoFundMe at the time, said the high number of such fundraisers was a sign of a "broken" healthcare system. 

Read the original article on Insider