Woman charged with faking cancer, keeping donations from New York towns

By Bernie Woodall (Reuters) - A 38-year-old Orlando woman who pretended to have terminal cancer and accepted donations when she lived in New York's Westchester County several years ago was arrested on Friday and charged with fraud, U.S. prosecutors said. Vedoutie Hoobraj, 38, used the name Shivonie Deokaran while perpetrating the scam from about October 2014 through at least March 2016, federal prosecutors said in a statement. Hoobraj was charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, after being arrested on Friday morning in Orlando, prosecutors said. Social media posts from the period in question show Hoobraj posing with her two sons, her head hairless, prosecutors said. Cancer patients often lose their hair during treatment. Hoobraj claimed to have seen doctors at cancer hospitals, including New York City's Sloan-Kettering Medical Center, but prosecutors said in court documents that she never actually underwent any cancer treatment. She raised more than $50,000 from at least 300 people in Westchester County towns, prosecutors allege. Spaghetti dinners were organized to help raise money for Hoobraj, who claimed she had 18 months to live and was suffering from both leukemia and cancer of the liver, a federal complaint against her shows. "Hoobraj allegedly concocted an elaborate story about having cancer when she did not, using GoFundMe pages and accepting money raised by a local high school, all supposedly to fund her medical care," Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in the prosecutors' statement. Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York FBI office, William Sweeney, said the alleged crime was an injustice "to those who do truly need the support of their communities and may now be met with suspicion" because of her alleged behavior. Hoobraj's public defender in Orlando did not immediately return a call for comment. She is due to appear in federal court in White Plains, New York, on August 16, according to court records. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)