Over the course of several months in 2019, Jessica Smith garnered the sympathy of hundreds of people online through GoFundMe and Facebook, saying she was drowning in “tremendous medical bills, travel costs, paying for the care of her children and missed work” due to a persistent, aggressive form of cancer.
Her pleas netted her more than $12,000 in donations, but it was all a lie. And in a Chester County courtroom, Smith, 33, pleaded guilty to theft by deception and forgery, prosecutors said Tuesday.
In a hearing late Monday in front of Common Pleas Court Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft, Smith, of Chester Springs, was sentenced to three years’ probation. She must also pay back the money she raised, and complete a court-appointed mental health treatment program.
Smith’s attorney, Michael DiCindio, said she “is remorseful for her actions and how she has offended and hurt others.”
“She suffers the consequences of two convictions and irreparable damage to her reputation,” he added. “But she appreciates the Chester County district attorney’s recognition of her mental health issues and for the opportunity to participate in a program aimed to treat and rehabilitate individuals with mental health disorders.”
In the online fund-raisers for her cancer treatment, Smith, using the name “Jessica Veronica Cornell,” wrote that she needed “extensive medical treatment” and posted photos of herself, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest.
The investigation began in summer 2019, when an acquaintance of Smith’s contacted Uwchlan Township police and said Smith was running two fund-raisers, on GoFundMe and Facebook, asking for donations to help with medical bills from a recent diagnosis of colorectal cancer. The woman told police she didn’t believe Smith had cancer.
A month later, Smith’s husband, Robert, also called police, saying his wife was raising money online for help with a cancer diagnosis that didn’t exist.
Smith later contacted police to report that she was being harassed online by people who were saying she didn’t have cancer. She showed detectives documents that she said were from staff at Penn Medicine but that detectives recognized as fraudulent, the affidavit said.