“As many of you know, our dear friend Jenny Flynn Cataldo has been battling cancer for over 3 years now. The cancer is unfortunately no longer treatable and the primary goal of medical care at this point is to give Jenny as much time as possible with her precious 6-yr-old son Flynn and her husband Daniel,” begins the GoFundMe campaign started September 13, 2016 by Will Pearson. Jenny Flynn Cataldo is listed as the campaign’s beneficiary (meaning only she could withdraw funds from the account); the effort raised over $25,000.
If you attempt to access the campaign now, all you get is a “campaign is closed” message.
A cached copy of the original campaign is still accessible, we saved a copy of that here.
The only comments on the campaign are from Jenny herself, expressing gratitude for the financial support from friends, family, and presumably internet strangers.
There’s just one small problem: Cataldo is accused of making the whole thing up.
AL.com reports that Cataldo was arrested Thursday and charged with two counts of first-degree theft by deception. She raised over $38,000 between two GoFundMe campaigns using her fake cancer diagnosis.
The way in which the story unraveled is bizarre, and began with an email from Cataldo’s dad to Alabama Political Reporter columnist Josh Moon. Moon writes:
In a well-written, concise email, the sender, Robert Flynn, a retired Vietnam veteran living in Birmingham with his wife, had provided a brief but jaw-dropping account of unthinkable fraud: his daughter, dying of cancer, had been bilked out of a multi-million-dollar legal settlement by then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and then-Gov. Robert Bentley.
Flynn urged the reporter to dig into it, which he did. What he discovered was not fraud on behalf of Luther and Strange but rather a deception on the part of Cataldo, one which not only involved phony GoFundMe campaigns but draining her parents of their savings in the process.
Over the next several days, as we put the pieces together, a clear picture emerged: For nearly seven years, Jenny Cataldo fooled an entire community, along with her parents and closest friends, into believing she was stricken with terminal cancer. In reality, though, Cataldo used that tale to bilk her parents and dozens of friends, family members and strangers out of nearly a half-million dollars – most of it coming from her parents.
Once he uncovered the real fraud, Moon alerted the Alabama Attorney General’s office and the FBI; a joint investigation was opened on April 13.
“The investigation of Cataldo centered around her use of two online GoFundMe fundraising campaigns, through which she received more than $38,000 from donors wishing to assist her with medical bills and a family vacation to Disney,” a release from the Attorney General’s office said. “The fundraising campaigns identified Cataldo as a terminal cancer patient. The investigation of Cataldo has uncovered that her claim of having terminal cancer was in fact not true.”
A second GoFundMe campaign — which has since been removed from the site but is archived here — started by Cataldo sought to fund a trip to Disney with her son.
“I have had cancer for two years and was just told it was it was inoperable! I would like to experience this with my 6 year son before I die within the year! Flynn has seen many concussions and seizures I just want him to get to be a child for once!” wrote Cataldo in the plea for $4,000. It went on to raise over $10,000. Once again, she thanked donors for their generosity.
“I can’t understand why she would’ve done it,” Catlaldo’s dad told Moon by phone on Thursday. “I just don’t know what would drive someone to do something like that. And I don’t know how she could keep us fooled for so long.”
Cataldo is being held at the Shelby County Jail on $100,000 bond.