It’s a familiar story: A young child is diagnosed with cancer. His desperate parents ask for emotional and financial support, netting thousands of dollars in donations and the attention of organizations moved by the child’s plight.
It’s a story of human struggle and kindness. And in this case, authorities say, it was a complete lie.
Last summer, Martin and Jolene LaFrance of Port Byron, New York, began claiming their then-9-year-old son CJ had cancer. They raised more than $3,000 and wrangled a visit to a Syracuse University football practice before the truth came out: CJ didn’t have cancer at all.
Now the LaFrances face criminal charges.
According to a statement from the Cayuga County Sheriff’s office, the pair are charged with one count each of scheme to defraud in the first degree, which is a felony. They are also each charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
The LaFrances, both 35, allegedly began publicizing the ruse in the spring of 2017 and started a GoFundMe account claiming CJ had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a malignant tumor in his abdomen and gastroparesis, a condition that affects the stomach muscles. The LaFrances asked for donations to support the family during his treatment.
“CJ has to go to the children’s hospital several times a week for treatments which has forced both Jolene and Marty to take a leave of absence from work,” the now-defunct page read. “They have been out of work since March leaving them with no income.”
The family raised $3,334 through the page and attracted the attention of nearby Syracuse University. Tweets from the official Syracuse football account and that of area reporters show that, in late July of 2017, CJ met with members of the Syracuse University football team and participated in their summer practice camp. The boy also met Syracuse head football coach Dino Babers and other members of the athletics staff.
But in early 2018 a person familiar with the LaFrances contacted the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office with suspicions about the family’s medical claims, Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould told CNN.
A four-month investigation “revealed conclusively that the child was never diagnosed with cancer or any other medical condition that was alleged in the GoFundMe solicitation,” the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office said.
GoFundMe released a statement saying they have banned the LaFrance family from the platform and that all donors to their campaign will receive a full refund.
“It’s important to remember that our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors are fully protected and will get their money back,” the statement reads. “Additionally, we are working with law enforcement on their investigation.”
CNN has reached out to Syracuse University for comment.
The LaFrances are scheduled to appear in court on May 16 for an arraignment. They could not be immediately reached for comment.