Webster, N.Y.— About a year ago, Webster residents Chic Leshorn and Jane Brayley found out they were victims of a scam.
The women had collected money among a group of their friends for a Farmington woman named Melissa Jones. They read a story in the Penny Saver about how Jones, a young mother, was suffering from a life-threatening form of cancer. As cancer survivors, they connected with Jones’ plight.
Only days after attending a fundraiser for Jones and donating money, Leshorn and Brayley found out Jones was arrested for faking her cancer diagnosis and collecting about $20,000 to $30,000 from more than 200 people under those false pretenses.
About 11 months after her arrest, on Wednesday, Jones accepted a plea deal and pled guilty to grand larceny and criminal possession of a forged instrument.
The guilty plea to the grand larceny counts stem from two matters:
-Benefits Jones received from her employer, Thompson Health, based on false documents and forms she filed for medical leave and other benefits she got while out of work for cancer treatment. The benefits were in excess of $3,000.
-Donations Jones received for the "Hope For Melissa" fundraiser including individual donations, and gifts from Farnsworth Chevy, Genesee Valley Pennysaver, and others.
The guilty plea to criminal possession of a forged instrument counts stem two other matters:
-Forging a letter from an on oncologist who never existed.
-Forging a letter from a cancer treatment center.
Leshorn and Brayley say they are glad Jones accepted responsibility but don’t think she should have been offered a plea deal.
“I think she has insulted cancer patients and survivors,” says Leshorn. “I think it’s a slap in the face. It’s an insult to us and I don’t think she should have been offered a plea deal.”
Once sentenced, Jones could face a year to five years in state prison. She would have faced nine to 20 years if the case went to trial.
Brayley says this case has made her wary of donating to certain charities. She says she now only gives money to established and trusted charities.
According to the Ontario County District Attorney, Jones will have to pay about $30,000 back about 200 people who donated money. The DA’s office is working out the details on how the victims will receive their money.
Leshorn and Brayley say they are on the list of people who hope to get their money back.
“I don’t want that money sitting in Canandaigua or wherever it’s sitting,” says Brayley. “I want to get it back so I donate it to the Golisano Children’s Hospital and actually help someone.”