Police arrested a Georgia medical professional who they say for years duped kind-hearted loved ones and strangers into thinking she had Stage IV ovarian cancer to walk away with at least $25,000 in donations, free trips and gifts.
Mary Bennett, 29, spoke of her battle with cancer on social media for years, writing about the things she still wanted to cross off her “bucket list” and thanking friends for their generosity as they donated to her cause, the Forsyth County Sheriff's office told INSIDE EDITION.
The licensed practical nurse's ambitions to live life to the fullest inspired those around Bennett, who officials said was treated to a wide range of experiences financed through fundraisers and gifts.
Trips and experiences included skydiving, a trip to New Orleans, a hot air balloon ride and a trip to Houston, Texas for a supposed medical treatment made possible by a local fundraiser that brought in $4,000, officials said.
“I just wanted to tell you all, thank you! I am so very appreciative for the donations and the orders that people have placed… It's certainly hard going thru cancer at any age. But for this to be the 2nd time in my short 27 years has certainly made me wiser and humbled,” Bennett wrote on a Facebook page created to raise funds for her cause.
Bennett, whose Twitter bio noted she was “a nurse... I’m also an Ovarian Cancer Survivor!” claimed to have been diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in 2013. She wrote on Facebook that she was laid off from her job in August of that year and was struggling to pay her bills.
“I can promise that once I'm better I will pay forward your kind acts through my career as a nurse and through donations,” she wrote. “Again thank you all so much! It truly means the world to me!”
But Bennett had never been diagnosed with cancer, according to officials and that there was no record of her receiving treatment anywhere.
“Her family was completely in the dark. She would go to these doctors and her family would take her, but no one ever actually went in with her. She was not actually having procedures,” Deputy Epifanio Rodriguez with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said.
At one point, Bennett allegedly claimed the cancer had spread to her brain and to her brainstem, he said. She allegedly said that she needed to undergo a special Gamma Knife procedure at the cancer hospital MD Anderson to battle the four tumors found.
"She went to the extreme and shaved her head, put bandages on her head," Rodriguez said.
She explained away the lack of scars from such procedures by saying "It was a miracle,".
Bennett was charged with misdemeanor theft by taking and felony first-degree forgery, according to reports.
She was hit with the latter charge after she allegedly provided investigators with forged letters from Emory Winship Cancer Institute to prove that she was a patient receiving treatment.
"We found out it was a fraudulent signature," Rodriguez said. "Not only were told 'we never treated her,' but also 'we have no idea who Mary Bennett' is."
Rodriguez said the misdemeanor theft charge could be upgraded to a felony if investigators find more people with proof that they were allegedly victimized by Bennett.
"We've had about a dozen (additional) people call us saying that they were victims," he said. "There's evidence that she was doing this since 2010," he continued. "In the State of Georgia, that is a crime. You cannot deceive people into getting funds from them. It is a crime."