A 32-year-old woman who used to live in Montgomery County has been indicted on charges of falsely claiming she had cancer and collecting donations through GoFundMe to pay for a trip to Australia for treatments she never received, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said Tuesday.
Vanessa O’Rourke, formerly of Harleysville, was charged with wire fraud in the indictment, which was unsealed Tuesday, McSwain said in a news release. Her last known residence was in the state of Queensland in Australia.
From about October 2015 through July 2016, O’Rourke claimed to have a form of brain cancer and said she needed the money to receive experimental treatments in Australia, prosecutors said.
The indictment alleges that O’Rourke told local medical providers she had been diagnosed with the cancer, and based on her representations, they prescribed her opioids and antianxiety medication to treat symptoms for her nonexistent illness.
O’Rourke allegedly convinced her father and stepmother to provide money for her to travel to Australia for treatment. She went to Australia and “participated in a variety of leisure activities, but did not receive any medical treatment,” the indictment says.
When she returned, O’Rourke wanted to make another trip to Australia, and that’s when she started her GoFundMe campaign and planned a fund-raising event at a Blue Bell restaurant, prosecutors said.
O’Rourke collected $11,740 from more than 140 people through her GoFundMe campaign, the indictment alleges.
Her fund-raising was publicized on a local Patch community news website in a June 13, 2016, article posted by a “neighbor.” The fund-raising plea claims that she was studying at Temple University to be a brain surgeon when she was diagnosed.
“She is a ray of sunshine to all who know her, positive every day and still helping others and loving life!” the article states while promoting a benefit dinner at the Whitpain Tavern later that month.
A spokesperson for Temple University declined to comment on O’Rourke.
At least two news reports in Australia say she had run into legal trouble there.
In a statement, McSwain called the allegations “nauseating.”
He added: “O’Rourke is charged with preying upon the kindness and generosity of good people who wished to help those in need. As alleged, there was no need here — only lies, greed and callous manipulation.”
Michael J. Driscoll, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia division, said in a separate statement: “As alleged, Vanessa O’Rourke scammed friends and family alike, convincing them to donate money toward her supposed medical care. Instead, those funds supported her lifestyle and leisure.”