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Woman, 19, accused of stealing $37K from 439 donors with false cancer claim, Iowa officials say

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Scott County authorities have accused a 19-year-old woman of stealing more than $37,000 from people trying to help her cope with cancer that she doesn’t have.

Madison Russo

Madison Russo

Madison Russo, address unavailable, faces a count of theft, according to the Eldridge Police Department, which investigated the case. Investigators believe she received about $37,300 from 439 donors by claiming she had leukemia, pancreatic cancer and a football-sized tumor around her spine.

The department said Russo made the claims openly, including to a media outlet, a podcast, on social media and on a GoFundMe page. She also had engagements at St. Ambrose University and the Chicago-based National Pancreatic Foundation where she spoke about having cancer.

During the investigation, people with medical experience identified discrepancies in the information Russo posted online, the department said. Russo’s medical records, obtained by subpoena, show that none of the medical facilities in the Quad-Cities region have diagnosed Russo with any kind of tumor or cancer.

The identities of the people with whom investigators consulted were not provided by the Eldridge Police, nor did the department provide any specific identities of donors.

The department did say donors included school districts, businesses, non-profits and individuals.

As of Monday, police were still identifying people who gave money to Russo, the department said. Anyone who contributed is asked to contact the police at 563-285-3916 or

Eldridge officers arrested Russo Monday and she was booked into the Scott County Jail at about 10:46 a.m., according to the jail website. To be released, she would have to post a $10,000 cash-only bond.

Details about her next court appearance were not available Monday afternoon.

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