Authorities stated that a 19-year-old woman from Iowa has been accused of defrauding numerous contributors of over $37,000 through dishonest claims on TikTok and GoFundMe regarding her struggle with pancreatic cancer and possessing a tumor “the magnitude of a football.”
As stated by the Eldridge Police Department, Madison “Maddie” Russo was apprehended on Jan. 23 for a charge of first-degree theft, a serious crime that can result in a maximum sentence of 10 years of imprisonment in Iowa.
The police said that Russo faked having Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and a tumor the size of a football, wrapping her around.
Officials stated that the alleged swindler had collected $37,303 from over 439 unsuspecting contributors through a GoFundMe page and recorded her fraudulent struggle with cancer on TikTok.
The police also stated that Russo, a student at St. Ambrose University, where she claimed to have worked at the National Pancreatic Foundation, denied the nonprofit organization’s inaccurate claim and spoke about her fabricated health struggles.
According to Fox News, “a representative for the nonprofit organization stated, ‘We can verify that the individual in question has not had any interaction with the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and has never addressed any of our gatherings.'”
“No justification to doubt Maddie’s account.” However, there was an “unfortunate” incident that supported the woman’s presence on the show. Russo explained that previously, she had also been a guest on the Project Purple podcast, during which a representative characterized the situation as
The story of Russo began to unravel on January 11 when anonymous witnesses claiming to be medical professionals reached out to authorities, saying they noticed many discrepancies in the teen’s social media posts about battling cancer.
According to court documents cited by station KWQC, witnesses claimed to have noticed “severe and potentially fatal errors in the positioning of her medical equipment” on her person.
Noted that a few of her medical apparatus and its positioning did not appear correct, multiple TikTok users who viewed Russo’s videos in which she chronicled her cancer therapies, simultaneously.
Investigators asserted that Russo also allegedly stole images shared on the internet by real cancer patients and presented them as her own.
According to the court records, a brown paper bag filled with medical supplies, an IV stand with a feeding pump packed with cotton swabs, a hairpiece, and medication for queasiness under a family member’s name were confiscated by the authorities during the execution of a search warrant at Russo’s residence in Bettendorf.
Investigators have also subpoenaed Russo’s medical records, where it has been found that the teen has never been diagnosed with any form of tumor or cancer at any medical facilities in the area.
In an October 2022 interview with Scott North of the Russo Press, she was diagnosed with leukemia and pancreatic cancer a few months later in February 10th.
I think about it when I remember, but somehow I ended up getting the courage to wipe away my tears and go back into class, even though I was literally bawling. She told me it was the Iowa news outlet that reported it, and I remember hanging up the phone.
Russo said doctors gave her an 11% survival rate for five years, before discovering the massive, supposedly inoperable tumor on her spine.
Last year, Russo claimed that she underwent 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 90 rounds of radiation between October and February during her interview.
“I just want to know if what I don’t know right now is the right plan for my game. Everything feels uncertain, and I feel like my soul has been rocked. I can’t win for losing. It’s like a Catch-22. She said life has been crazy.”
Despite facing medical challenges, Russo managed to juggle attending classes at St. Ambrose University, maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA, working part-time at John Deere, and playing golf in her spare time.
Maddie is currently undergoing vigorous radiation and chemotherapy treatments as she has been very sick. However, the GoFundMe page for the Russo’s is still accepting donations, even though the description on the page states that it has been taken down since Monday.
The fundraiser expressed, “It is important to acknowledge that this situation can be burdensome for Maddie’s family, as expenses such as meals, gas, bills, and medical costs, including cancer diagnosis, can cause worry. One can only imagine how difficult this diagnosis has been for her family.”
If you are able to donate/share, please do so. It would be greatly appreciated if you could help cover Maddie’s medical expenses, as the only thing she is focused on is beating this strong and relentless cancer.
The “GoFundMe scam alleged” was addressed in a statement to McClatchy News, stating that the accused’s wrongdoing is in line with law enforcement investigations and our platform’s policy of zero tolerance for the misuse.
All individuals who contributed to Russo’s fundraising campaign have been refunded, and the nineteen-year-old has been prohibited from using GoFundMe.
One of the contributors to Russo’s campaign informed station KWQC that she was “surprised” when she found out about the teenager’s apprehension.
Russo was released from jail on a $10,000 bond just four hours after her arrest on March 2 in the back court.