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Mom Accused of Faking Toddler's Cancer After Raising $40K on GoFundMe

Photograph by Twenty20

Adding to recent rage-inducing news, an Iowa mom is on trial for pretending to be a doctor and lying about her toddler having cancer. She raised a whopping $40,000 on GoFundMe after severely exaggerating her 3-year-old son's conditions.

Last week, prosecutors said Monika Burgett, 39, created two GoFundMe pages on behalf of Jackson and made several false claims, including that the boy had a brain tumor. She even had his head and eyebrows shaved and posted photos of him on the fundraising pages, which led to more than $40,000 in donations.

Both pages have since been taken down, but anti-fraud site GoFraudMe have some screenshots of the Facebook posts and photos linking to the campaigns.

GoFundMe announced that if Burgett is found guilty of the scam, the site will issue refunds to people who gave money to her.

Crowdfunding scams aren't unheard of. Scammers would profit off other people's pain, for instance, to help (but not actually) with funeral costs or a sick child's medical costs. In 2015, a man raised thousands of dollars on behalf of a family friend's baby with congenital heart problems, though that family never received the money.

In Burgett's case, it's not just the scam that's so heartbreaking. The mom is also accused of pretending to be a doctor and endangering her child. Somehow, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, she convinced doctors at Cincinnati Children's hospital, who were caring for her son, that she was also a physician and that her son had terminal cancer.

These two lies were also believed by family members, including her husband and sister, for many years.

Dr. Robert Shapiro testified that the mom "became a member of the health care team" as her son was treated with drugs including Oxycodone and methadone. The team eventually suspected her of lying about the boy's symptoms and reported suspected child abuse to Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

During opening statements in court, assistant prosecutor Anne Flanagan said that Burgett's reports of fake symptoms led to “unnecessary and excessive treatment" and the child "was living a life of sedation—of tubes stuck in his face and nose, tubes in his intestines and stomach."

Jackson was removed from his mom's custody in March 2016 and placed in foster care. Prosecutors say he was thriving within a week and didn't need pain medication at all. According to Time, court records show that as of mid-June the now-5-year-old lives with his father in Texas.

But Burgett’s attorney, M.J. Hugan, said though the mom lied about being a doctor, she was trying to get the right care for her child. Jackson had many medical problems and needed medical care since being born premature at 25 weeks. He was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes typically benign tumors to form on nerve tissue and caused a growth inside the boy's mouth.

“We’re kinda at a loss as to why she was charged in the first place,” Lisa Rabanus, Burgett's assistant defense attorney, told People. “You can say this mom lied to us, this mom exaggerated things—but at the end of the day, you wrote the prescriptions, you ordered the tests.”

Burgett is charged with child abuse, felonious assault and telecommunications fraud. Testimony will continue this week.

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