It sounds like a Lifetime movie, but it's completely true. A 42-year-old woman from Virginia named Martha Ann Nicholas claimed to have had cancer. She said she beat the disease four times and became somewhat of a staple at cancer rallies. She volunteered for the American Cancer Society, was an active fundraiser and participant in Relay for Life events, and raised $12,000 ... which the A.C.S. says they received. But Martha also raised $1,700 that she took for herself -- and has since been returned in restitution.
That's because it was revealed this past December that Nicholas never had cancer. In court, she pleaded guilty on two misdemeanor charges of obtaining money by false pretenses. Her sentence: A $100 fine and five years probation.
Sound like a punishment befitting of the crime?
Sure, it's not pennies, but as far as a court fine goes, $100 is nada! There are parking tickets that probably cost more than that. Sounds like the judge just wanted to give Nicholas a slap on the wrist.
While I'm sure there are people out there who donated to her, feel betrayed, and would like to see her have to cough up a lot more dough for her crime, it bears noting that there was more to Martha's "scam" than meets the eye. The mother of two reportedly suffered from a psychological condition which caused her to think that she had a cancer-like disease.
Her defense attorney, Sam Simpson, told a local news affiliate, "We weren't dealing with a physical illness, we were dealing with psychiatric illness, and that was really manifesting itself through her actions."
The fact that she barely pocketed any of the funds she raised does make me personally wonder if she was really suffering from psychiatric illness. And if so, it would make me a teeny bit sympathetic. Cancer sucks, but mental illness is no picnic either.
However, her offense was deserving of a harsher punishment. Perhaps she should have had to pay a heftier fine or serve a longer probation? What about being required to seek psychiatric care? In the end, a sentence with just a little bit more heft to it would have sent a stronger message -- that pretending to have cancer and taking funds under false pretenses (even if you have the best intentions or weren't mentally well) is wrong.
Here's the local news story about Martha ...
Do you think Nicholas deserved a heftier sentence or should she have been given the break for being psychologically unwell?