Brandi Weaver-Gates, a former Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International pageant contestant, was sentenced to prison on Tuesday after pretending to have leukemia for two years and taking thousands of dollars from sympathetic supporters.
CBS News reports that Weaver-Gates, 24, who won the beauty pageant in 2015, told supporters and loved ones that she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in March 2013. The diagnosis turned out to be fraudulent, and Weaver-Gates tricked around 165 people into donating almost $30,000 through a number of different fundraising events.
According to Weaver-Gates, she came up with the bogus story in an attempt to get attention from her own family. Yet, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller told a judge that the former beauty pageant contestant swindled people out of their money due to “plain greed and selfishness.”
Miller continued, “She wasn’t working. She was living off the money. She had a psychological evaluation and nothing was wrong.”
Numerous social media users and even neighbors in her community accused Weaver-Gates of drug addiction, particularly meth, but those claims were never substantiated.
In addition to two to four years in a state prison, Weaver-Gates must serve five years on probation following her release and pay back the money she fraudulently collected.
Last month, Weaver-Gates pleaded guilty to four felony counts of theft by unlawful taking and four felony counts of receiving stolen property. She’s been in jail since August 2015 after an anonymous tip to police led to an investigation that uncovered she was faking cancer.
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People reports that during Tuesday’s sentencing, Miller pushed for a strong sentence for Weaver-Gates, “since her callousness evidenced an unusually cruel scheme to defraud people who were at their most vulnerable, friends and relatives of real cancer survivors.”
Part of the scheme included participating in a 2014 Relay for Life celebration, an American Cancer Society (ACS) event set up to provide communities across the world a chance to meet with cancer survivors and help people who’ve lost loved ones to the disease. While attending the event at Penn State, Weaver-Gates told the Centre Daily Times that meeting others helped her cope with her supposed illness.
“When you’re a part of something like Relay for Life, it shows you you’re not alone. When I was first diagnosed, I kept it to myself for a while; I didn’t know how to tell my family and even though they were there through it all, it still feels like you’re battling it alone, because they don’t understand.”
Three months later, Weaver-Gates used her Facebook account to continue her lies, indicating that she was in remission.
“I can’t believe it’s been a week already since I found out that I’m in remission again!!! From a sick/scary 4th, to celebrating remission, to having a sip for my one week mark! #kickitsbutt#KICKEDitsbutt #byebyecancer.”
During her two-year ruse, Weaver-Gates had her own sister driving her to a number of hospitals, including a long-distance trip to the renowned Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. Supporters frequently walked door-to-door, asking residents for donations on Weaver-Gates’ behalf, and on one occasion, she allowed supporters to carry her across a finish line at a race.
In April 2015, she hosted a fundraiser that turned out to be the biggest one to date. Bingo for Brandi, held at the Yearick Center in Howard, Pennsylvania, brought in $14,000 to Weaver-Gates.
Brandi Weaver-Gates apologized during sentencing, offering apologies to her community and to anyone she duped out of money. A number of people in attendance, however, weren’t touched by her words this time, as they recalled “the sacrifices they had made as a result of her scheme and the embarrassment and regret they felt at going door to door and being unknowingly complicit in her scheme.”
[Image via Pennsylvania State Police]