Imagine if a good friend of yours tells you she is suffering from a rare neurological disease you can’t pronounce. You’ve known this person most of your life, you’ve shared laughs and tea and tears and smiles. One day, she comes to you and says it’s Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy; despite the fact that Google tells you it’s “the most common treatable chronic neuropathy in the western world,” your heart breaks as your friend tells you she is bed-ridden, and that her necessary medications aren’t covered by national healthcare (pretend, if you will, that you are in Canada, where the following story took place). What do you do?
For friends and family of Cynthia Lynn Smith, the answer was to create a GoFundMe page in November of 2014 entitled Please Help Us Save Cindy’s Life. The campaign went on to raise a staggering $126,594 from over 500 donors, including funds raised offline.
For three years, Smith kept up the ruse. In early 2015, The Spectator interviewed her sister and best friend as the paper wanted to write up a feel good story about the community coming together to support one of their own. “They described a loving woman whose health had rapidly deteriorated since October,” said the Spectator, “including being airlifted to a hospital in Buffalo after going into organ failure. They said she had a compromised immune system that prevented visitors from seeing her.” They were, however, unable to provide any proof of treatment. The Spectator did the responsible thing and declined to publish the story as there didn’t seem to be sufficient evidence to substantiate Smith’s claims.
That’s when police got involved.
“She can see, she can talk, she can walk,” said fraud unit detective Sgt. Troy Izlakar of New Halton police when Smith was charged with defrauding the public of more than $5,000 in May of 2015. The GoFundMe campaign was removed later that same day.
The saga of Cynthia Smith and her phony fight with CIDP has now come to end, with Smith pleading guilty in Ontario court earlier this week
Her lawyer Mark Hogan said less than $50,000 was raised by the public, despite the GoFundMe campaign showing donations adding up to over $126k, and police were able to recover just $7200.
Via the Burlington Post:
“Cindy did not benefit personally from the funds that were raised,” [Hogan] said.
The lawyer said the conditional discharge given to Smith by the judge took into account a number of circumstances. A conditional discharge can only be given for a conviction of fraud under $5,000, not over.
Hogan cited “significant mental health concerns”, as well as her personal history, that she pled guilty, thereby avoiding the time and cost of a trial, and that the GoFundMe site and a fundraising bank account were not set up by her.
“By pleading guilty she took some responsibility for her role,” Hogan said.
As part of her plea, Smith has been granted conditional release and will be on probation for two years. The terms of her probation forbid her from any fundraising activities, and she is not allowed contact with her former friend Hilary Keeves, who organized the GoFundMe campaign.
Police have seized items that were part of earlier fundraising efforts for Smith, and will donate any proceeds from their auction to a legitimate Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy organization.