Joanna Leigh, a Massachusetts woman who claimed she suffered a serious brain injury during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, plead guilty on Friday to scamming the public and charitable organizations out of approximately $40,000.
Leigh, 41, of Jamaica Plain in Boston, plead guilty to five counts of larceny over $250 and making a false claim to a government agency, according to CNN.
While Leigh had attended a viewing party prior to the marathon, she was nowhere near the site when the bombs went off. Suspiciously, she waited two weeks before seeking medical treatment, and when she finally did, she claimed she was suffering from PTSD, hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury, and vision loss. At the time, she claimed she suffered the injuries when she went back to help those who had been wounded in the bombing.
“At every step, she lied and withheld information to generate money, services and sympathy for herself,” Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said in a statement. “While others were asking how they could help, she was asking how she could benefit.”
— antoinette antonio (@antoinetteA) November 13, 2015
Joanna Leigh deceived hundreds of people, including the children and staff at Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan who raised nearly $2,000 to help her with her medical expenses. Joanna also applied for, and received, $8,000 from One Fund Boston, which was set up to be dispersed to the Boston Marathon victims.
According to One Fund Boston’s website, the organization dispersed more than $20 million in the form of cash gifts to individuals. The also provided funding for the One Fund Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, making the total amount distributed over $80 million.
In addition to accepting money from the school and organization, Joanna Leigh created a GoFundMe page using another person’s name, and raked in $9,350. She also received nearly $18,000 in cash and services from the Massachusetts Victims of Violent Crime Compensation program, and $900 in cosmetic dermatology services to undergo a procedure for facial redness, a service she had had done previously.
“This defendant exploited the compassion of people and agencies who wanted to help those in need,” Conley said. “Every dollar she received was stolen from someone who truly deserved it.”
The president of the One Fund, James D. Gallagher, issued a statement explaining how much time and effort went into helping Joanna, and how that their resources could have been used to help those who had actually been affected by the Boston Marathon massacre.
— WBZ Boston News (@cbsboston) November 13, 2015
“It is unfortunate that when the leaders and citizens of our extraordinary city came together to establish the One Fund in the wake of the marathon bombings, there are individuals who saw the fund as an opportunity for fraudulent claims at the expense of the victims,” Gallagher’s statement said.
While Assistant District Attorney Greer Spatz recommended Joanna be sentenced to two to three years in federal prison and be required to pay back full restitution, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter Krupp sentenced Leigh to one year in prison, which was suspended for three years probation. Judge Krupp also ordered Leigh to pay back every cent she received in the scam, perform 300 hours of community service, and undergo a mental health evaluation and participate in any treatment the doctors deem necessary.
Leigh’s attorney, Norman Zalkind, said he found the sentence appropriate, but said his client did actually suffer from PTSD from that day.
“She was criminal in claiming that she was 10 feet from the bombing. She was criminal in saying she had traumatic brain injury, but she was injured and probably could have gotten the money,” Zalkind said. “If she hadn’t lied about certain injuries and had told the truth instead of exaggerating, she would have probably gotten some money anyway.”
[Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images]