Iowa Woman Who Faked Cancer to Cheat Donors of $37K Avoids Jail Time

Madison Russo
Madison Russo Instagram

An Iowa woman who falsely claimed to have cancer and documented her "battle" on social media will stay out of prison after a judge gave her probation and a suspended sentence.

Madison Russo, 20, never had pancreatic cancer, leukemia nor the football-sized tumor wrapped around her spine she that claimed in postings on TikTok, GoFundMe, Facebook and LinkedIn. However, more than 400 people sent her donations.

Russo Ordered to Pay $39K in Restitution, Sentenced to Probation for 3 Years

As part of the 10-year suspended sentence handed down Friday, she was ordered to pay $39,000 in restitution and a $1,370 fine. If she stays out of trouble for three years of probation, she'll stay free.

As previously reported, Russo pleaded guilty in June to first-degree theft. In court on Friday, Judge John Telleen declined a defense request that would have wiped the conviction off her record if she completes probation successfully. He said people who deal with her in the future should know that she once engaged in a "criminal scheme," and that "serious crimes must have serious consequences."

"Through this scheme, you deceived your friends, your family, your community, other cancer victims, charities and strangers who were motivated by your supposedly tragic story to donate to help support you," the judge said.

Russo Claims She Didn't Fake Cancer for 'Money or Greed,' Did it to Get 'Family Back Together'

Russo told the court she made her story up because she hoped her fake cancer battle would force her troubled family to focus on her.

"A lot of people have made speculation as to why I did this and how somebody who looked like they had everything together could have such a mess," she said. "I didn't do this for money or greed. I didn't do this for attention. I did this as an attempt to get my family back together."

Russo's sentence also includes 100 hours of community service. She paid the $39,000 restitution earlier, and the money was being held by the court. GoFundMe has already sent refunds to donors.

Russo's Scam Unravelled After Netizens Noticed Medical Discrepancies in Photos She Posted

Madison Russo
Madison Russo's GoFundMe page Twitter

Russo, who was 19 at the time, claimed to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer, and a football-sized tumor wrapped around her spine.

Eldridge police arrested Russo in February after anonymous witnesses with medical experience told detectives about some medical discrepancies found in photos that she had posted online. Police subpoenaed her medical records and found she had never been diagnosed with cancer at any medical facility in the area.

According to an arrest affidavit, certain photographs used by were sourced from the social media profiles of genuine cancer patients and were deceitfully presented as Russo's own. Investigators issued a subpoena for Russo's medical records and discovered that she had never received a cancer diagnosis in the Quad Cities or neighboring areas.