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Woman faked cancer, friends say.

Byline: Chelsea Deffenbacher The Register-Guard

When Jenifer Jones Gaskin announced in 2014 that she had been diagnosed with cancer, friends and neighbors were quick to jump in, hosting fundraisers, offering support and lifting up prayers in Gaskin's time of need.

"You got this Jen!"

"Get well soon!"

"You and your kiddos are in our thoughts! You can beat this!!!!"

"Prayers for you!"

"Kick ass!"

These and a hundred more messages with similar themes flooded the GoFundMe fundraising Web page set up for Gaskin after she posted about her illness on Facebook.

Jill Hanns, who moved to the Portland area from Eugene in 2012, started the GoFundMe page on Gaskin's behalf after seeing her friend's post.

"Jen is an amazing mother of two beautiful children and a sister in Christ," Hanns wrote on the page, explaining the fundraiser. "Any donations made to this fund will help to cover the costs of Jen's medical treatments and basic living expenses for her and her children. What Jen needs most right now is time to focus on her health, rest, and be with her kids. Any contributions would help alleviate the financial stress and allow her to do just that."

In all, people from all over the country donated more than $10,000 for her treatment and recovery. Another $5,000 was donated by those who attended a benefit night in her honor at Pappy's Pizzeria on Barger Drive, Hanns said. Even more people participated in a meal train, providing groceries and hot meals right to Gaskin's front door in west Eugene.

But there was just one problem.

Her friends - and, apparently, law enforcement - believed that the cancer diagnosis was a lie.

No record of treatment found

Eugene police and the Lane County District Attorney's Office investigated the alleged fraud case for more than a year, according to a police report obtained Tuesday by The Register-Guard.

The report states that police could not find any proof that Gaskin ever has been treated for cancer at any of the hospitals from which she claimed to have received chemotherapy or other treatment. Her medical records and insurance claims were subpoenaed by the Lane County District Attorney's Office, the report states, but turned up no results.

Gaskin, who now lives in Tualatin and is a certified nursing assistant, was interviewed by detectives in January 2016, the report shows. After the first interview, Gaskin told Eugene Detective Steve Williams on two occasions that she would get him a copy of her records, the report states. But Gaskin never provided any records and quit returning his phone calls.

At the end of the investigation, the District Attorney's Office issued a case evaluation stating that "the lack of a confession or at least any admissions is problematic in the context of all medical records, the method of solicitation for money and the people that gave the money being scattered around the country and primarily contributing small amounts."

Williams additionally wrote, "The issue involved the inability to locate and present theft victims, nearly all of whom donated small dollar amounts and lived out-of-state, and a lack of any admissions from Jennifer Jones Gaskin."

Wednesday, Lane County Chief Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman explained: "Both Detective Williams and I were highly suspect of Ms. Gaskin's representation that she was diagnosed and treated for cancer. In an effort to substantiate her claims, Detective Williams asked for information from Ms. Gaskin as to which physician(s) she was under the care of. She supplied at least two providers, and when records from those providers were subpoenaed, they did not corroborate her claims.

"One would surmise," he continued, "that if a person was legitimately trying to prove they were being treated for cancer, it would not be difficult to establish that through medical records."

Betrayal and anger

By law, if she were to be prosecuted, Gaskin has the right to face her accusers. To be considered a felony, a theft needs to be in the amount of $1,000 or more. But the donations to Gaskin came in small increments and from donors in Washington, Tennessee and Virginia, to name a few.

To get all of those donors in Lane County Circuit Court to pursue charges would be a difficult task - and expensive.

"The cost of pursuing that prosecution would be prohibitive, given the nominal amount of donations per person, and the fact that the defendant would be highly unlikely to agree to telephone testimony for witnesses, as she has a right to 'confront her accusers,'" Hasselman said.

Through the GoFundMe fundraiser, the largest amount donated at a single time was $1,000 by a man in Savannah, Ga., who wrote on the fundraising website, "Jen is a wonderful woman! I have had the pleasure to know her since childhood! God bless her and her children!"

The rest were in donations ranging from $5 to $500 and any amount in between.

One Maple Falls, Wash., woman donated $25 a month for nearly a year.

A woman in Arizona gave $10 and wrote, "You don't know me, Jen, but as a mom, my heart goes out to you and your children. I wish you all of the best and my family and I will keep you in our prayers."

GoFundMe has said it will refund the donations.

The Eugene police case has been suspended, but it is not closed.

And the friends who rallied around Gaskin from the beginning and organized the fundraising efforts have expressed betrayal and anger.

"I really hope they reopen this case," Dobson said.

"I would like to see her face charges," Hanns said. "She needs to pay some price for this. She can't just get off scott free."

Diagnosis announcement

Gaskin told friends Hanns and Elsa Dobson, as well as others, that she had been diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer.

News went from bad to worse when she claimed doctors, who initially had described her cancer as treatable, later said it was Stage 4 - fatal.

"Looking back on it now, it was really sick and twisted," Dobson said.

Dobson said she was there when Gaskin hosted her own "pre-chemo party" at a Springfield nursing home of all places, where Gaskin didn't have any connections, Dobson said.

There, Gaskin shaved her head in preparation of the chemotherapy she was about to start. An intimate group of people Gaskin had invited shared laughs and tears and - above all - support.

Dobson and Gaskin had known each other for a few years at that time because their daughters played soccer together.

Dobson said she and Gaskin were only acquaintances initially, and friends on Facebook, but they became close after Gaskin posted online about her cancer diagnosis.

"My first instinct is to reach out to people. We're both single moms, and I know it's really hard to be a single mom and to go through all of that," Dobson said. "So I started checking in with her. I would take her son to school and pick him up after school and take him to her house."

Gaskin's son attended Prairie Mountain Middle School. Dobson's and Gaskin's daughters both attended Churchill High School. So Dobson became someone Gaskin leaned on, Dobson recalled. Dobson helped distribute the fliers for the Pappy's Pizzeria event. She also helped get people signed up for the food train, and personally delivered $100 worth of groceries to Gaskin's front door.

Inconsistencies mount

But things weren't adding up, Dobson said. For instance, Gaskin's stories were inconsistent. She wouldn't let Dobson drive her to any of her chemo appointments or doctor visits. And when Dobson insisted, Gaskin told her the appointment had been canceled or changed.

So when Dobson became suspicious, she asked Gaskin questions. And then, she said, their friendship was over.

Hanns said she had the same experience.

"I became really suspicious. And by September 2015, my suspicions were rapidly confirmed after I reported it to police to find out for sure," Hanns said.

Hanns also thought something was off about Gaskin's appointments. Within the first week of the GoFundMe fundraiser, Gaskin drew out more than $6,500 from the donations that came in - confirmed to Hanns by GoFundMe staff and shared in an email with The Register-Guard this week.

Hanns said Gaskin promptly bought her daughter a Jeep and got braces for her son with the money.

The money raised, Hanns said, was supposed to go toward Gaskin's treatment and living expenses for three months so she could take time off work and focus on her health. But she said that Gaskin continued to work - and also continued to travel.

"I feel really burned because she knows I am a single mom," Dobson said. "I just don't know; we didn't have a falling out. But when I asked questions, she cut me out without explanation. I tried checking in with her, but she blocked me on Facebook. It was just time, and people were catching onto her. She used us for what she could get and then, off she went."

Hanns echoed Dobson's feelings. "I look like a fool," Hanns said. "I feel betrayed because Elsa and I both solicited donations and sympathy from our friends that didn't know Jen from Adam but wanted to help. Because of our good names, they did. The emotional toll has been harder for me because this is someone I've considered a close friend. It's a feeling of betrayal because you think, 'Gosh, did I ever really know that person?' "

Attempts to contact Gaskin for this story were unsuccessful, and her specific whereabouts are unknown.

According to court records, Gaskin received two parking tickets in Portland in fall 2015, but both are outstanding and were "returned to sender" as recently as July 2016 because Gaskin's address on Aldabra Street in Eugene no longer is valid.

According to state records, Gaskin has been a certified nursing assistant since February 2014, just a couple of months before she announced her diagnosis. Legacy Medical Center in Tualitin declined to confirm whether Gaskin was an employee there. TIPS FOR SAFE GIVING Be careful on social media: Heart-wrenching videos, pictures and messages on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter may inspire you to give, but don't do so blindly. If possible, donate directly to legitimate charities or nonprofit organizations. Check up on charitable organizations: In Oregon, most must be registered with the attorney general's office. Check the office's database (https://justice.oregon.gov/Charities) or call 971-673-1880 to ensure that the organization is registered. Don't donate impulsively: Legitimate charitable groups will never insist that you donate immediately. If you are solicited by phone or by a door-to-door representative, request written materials about the group and read up on it before making a decision. Eugene-Springfield Relay for Life: The signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society began Friday and continues Saturday. To donate online or to see a schedule of local events, visit http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY17GW pg=entry&fr_id=80529. Sources: Oregon Attorney General's Office, Charity Navigator, Relay for Life

Follow Chelsea on Twitter @ChelseaDeffenB. Email chelsea.deffenbacher@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Crime; An outpouring of financial and emotional support turns to anger, betrayal and an investigation by local authorities
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 15, 2017
Words:1842
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:Netting a windfall.
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