Twisted TikToker Iowa woman who scammed donors out of $37,000 claiming she had cancer pleads guilty and could now face 10 years in prison

Twisted TikToker who scammed donors

A 20-year-old Iowa woman who lied online about having pancreatic cancer and a tumour “the size of a football” in order to defraud donors of $37,000 has admitted to the scheme.

Madison “Maddie” Russo of Bettendorf appeared in court on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to first-degree stealing, a felony, according to station WQUAD.

Russo could face up to ten years in prison if she is sentenced later.

Russo first pled not guilty to the theft allegation coming from her complex fraud, in which she stole money from 439 unsuspecting donors, including cancer organisations and school districts.

The then-19-year-old Iowa woman was detained in late January after police said she pretended to have Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and “a tumour the size of a football wrapped around her spine.”


The shameless swindler documented her made-up cancer battle on her TikTok page and in GoFundMe updates.

The description of her now-defunct online campaign stated that her cancer diagnosis “has been very hard on Maddie’s family. Just like with any cancer diagnosis, the cost of medical bills, gas, meals, and expense can be a burden, and that is something this family should not have to worry about.”

“If you are able to, donations would be greatly appreciated to help cover medical expenses and to allow Maddie to focus on one thing only, which is to show that she is stronger than cancer and will beat this. Please donate/share if you can,” the fundraiser pleaded.

Russo also gave talks about her supposed health struggles at St. Ambrose University, where she had been a student, and on the podcast “Project Purple.”

In an interview with the North Scott Press last year, Russo said she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Feb. 10, 2022, and with leukemia a few months later.

“I remember hanging up the phone, and I was a mess,” she told the Iowa news outlet.

Russo claimed in the interview that between February and October of last year, she underwent 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 90 rounds of radiation — all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, holding down a part-time job, and golfing in her spare time.

She said doctors gave her an 11% survival rate for five years, before discovering the huge mass on her spine.

“I feel like I’ve been rocked to my soul, and right now, everything is kind of uncertain,” she moaned.

Her lies finally caught up with her in mid-January, when witnesses claiming to be medics contacted the police, saying they noticed “many medical discrepancies” in Russo’s social media posts talking about her cancer journey.

Court documents cited by station KWQC alleged that the witnesses were said to have observed “terrible life-threatening inaccuracies of her medical equipment placement on her body.”

Russo’s TikTok followers also observed that some of her medical equipment and its placement seen in her videos did not look right.

One TikTok user posted a photo of Russo smiling while hooked up to a gastrostomy tube and pointed out that it was too far up her nose and a “chest port” appeared to have been wrongly applied.

In the course of a police investigation, detectives learned that Russo had stolen photos shared online by real cancer patients and passed them off as her own to bolster her bogus claims.

A search of Russo’s home in Bettendorf turned up a trove of evidence, including an IV pole with a feeding pump filled with cotton swabs, a wig, and anti-nausea medication prescribed in a relative’s name, according to the court filings.

Russo’s medical records obtained by the police revealed that she had never been diagnosed with any form of cancer or tumor at any medical facility in the area where she has been a patient.

After Russo’s scam was exposed, GoFundMe banned her from the platform and reimbursed everyone who had donated to her fraudulent campaign.

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