They claimed their kid had cancer — but it was the parents who were sick people, police say.
An upstate New York couple allegedly invented their son's phony cancer diagnosis to defraud people out of thousands of dollars and gain special access to the Syracuse University football team.
Martin and Jolene LaFrance, both 35, were arrested Friday and charged with scheme to defraud and endangering the welfare of a child, according to Syracuse.com. The arrests came after a four-month investigation.
The Port Byron couple claimed their son, CJ LaFrance, was battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. In a GoFundMe page last August, which appears to be deleted but is archived here, the couple said he had "a malignant tumor in his abdomen, & gastroperisis," an apparent misspelling of gastroparesis. The page drew $3,334 in donations, nearly half of its $8,000 goal.
The family was invited in August to be special guests at practice for the Syracuse University football team. The boy, who was 9 at the time, got to meet his favorite players and the team finished practice with CJ in the middle of the huddle, according to Syracuse.com.
The parents claimed CJ had to go to the hospital several times a week for treatments, forcing them to take a leave of absence from work and robbing them of income.
Acting on a tip, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation and found "the child was never diagnosed with cancer or any other medical condition that was alleged in the GoFundMe solicitation," it said.
CJ's uncle, Justin Roe, told Syracuse.com on in July that CJ's cancer had recently been upgraded to stage three, and that a malignant tumor was found in the boy's abdomen.
"He has not been getting better," Roe said at the time. It is not known if Roe was involved with the scheme, and he has not been charged with a crime.
Roe also said the family had bonded with Roy Witke, Syracue University's director of player development and a two-time cancer survivor.
In a statement to WSYR TV in Syracuse, GoFundMe said the family violated the site's terms of service and all donors will get a refund. The LaFrances are also banned from the fundraising platform. The company said it is working with law enforcement in the investigation.
Misuse rarely happens on the site, GoFundMe said.
"There are unfortunate and rare instances where people create campaigns with the intention to take advantage of others' generosity. In the small handful of cases where misuse occurs, GoFundMe takes action to resolve the issue.
The couple are due in court on May 16.
[Photo: Cayuga County Sheriff's Office]
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