Bettendorf woman charged with theft for false cancer fundraiser

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 3:36 PM CST
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ELDRIDGE, Iowa (KWQC) - A Bettendorf woman was charged with theft after police say she received over $37,000 in donations for a false cancer claim.

Madison Russo, 19, is charged with theft by means of deception, a class C felony.

The Eldridge Police Department around 6 p.m. Jan. 11, was made aware of 19-year-old Madison Russo who was suspected of stealing over $37,303 from more than 439 donors with false claims that she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Stage 2 Pancreatic Cancer, and a tumor, the size of a football, that wrapped around her spine, according to a media release.

According to police, witnesses, with medical experience, told police about many medical discrepancies found on her pictures posted on her social media sites.

According to an arrest affidavit, some of the pictures she shared as her own were taken from actual cancer patients’ social media pages.

After subpoenas for medical records were obtained, they showed that Russo had never been diagnosed with any kind of cancer or tumor from any medical facilities within the Quad Cities or surrounding cities, police said.

Russo shared her story publicly, online on social media and on a GoFundMe page, police said. She was also highlighted in the North Scott Press newspaper on Oct. 18, 2022, where she gives the story of her cancer journey.

Police said Russo had openly talked about her cancer journey as a guest speaker at St Ambrose University, The National Pancreatic Foundation in Chicago, and a podcast for Project Purple online.

Police said while investigating they found that Russo accepted private donations from other businesses, non-profit organizations, school districts, and private citizens.

Eldridge Police Department asks any business or person that has donated to Madison Russo to contact police at 563-285-3916 or email the Police Department at

Russo was arrested Monday, at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, according to police. She was released from the Scott County Jail Monday on a $10,000 cash-only bond. Russo’s arraignment is scheduled for March 2 at the Scott County Courthouse.

According to police, the investigation is ongoing.

The Ohl Strong foundation, a local cancer awareness group that police say Madison was involved with, posted on Facebook saying, “The Dr. Brent Ohl Pancreatic Cancer Support and Awareness Team is saddened to hear that one of our recipients in 2022 has been charged with fraudulently accepting assistance from our fund. Our goal has been, and continues to be, to provide financial support to 100% of the pancreatic cancer patients in our community.”

GoFundMe responded about the case, “GoFundMe has a zero-tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. GoFundMe’s Giving Guarantee offers donors a full refund in the rare case when something isn’t right; this is the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry. Donors can file a claim here:”

TV6 contacted Russo for comment and has not heard back.