Court records: Medical equipment, vehicle seized from Bettendorf woman charged in cancer scam

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:23 PM CST
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BETTENDORF, Iowa (KWQC) - Medical equipment, bank receipts, a wig, and a vehicle are among the items seized by Eldridge police this week as part of an investigation into a cancer scam involving a Bettendorf woman, according to newly filed court documents.

Court records show police on Friday obtained a warrant to search the Bettendorf apartment of Madison Marie Russo.

The 19-year-old was arrested Monday on one count of first-degree theft, a Class C felony punishable by 10 years in prison. She was released from the Scott County Jail the same day after a $10,000 cash bond was posted on her behalf.

She will be arraigned on March 2.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the search warrant:

Around 6 p.m. Jan. 11, police received a report that Russo had taken money and donations from more than 439 donors, which included businesses, national and local cancer foundations, school districts, colleges and private citizens.

A GoFundMe account raised about $37,303 as of Jan. 19.

Officers learned Russo had authored numerous social media posts and was a guest speaker for several organizations, including the OHL Foundation, and St. Ambrose University under the false pretenses that she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and had a “football-sized” tumor on her lower back that wrapped around her spine.

However, police noted she was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA, was out in the sun, had a part-time job with John Deere and continued to golf.

She also was interviewed by a local newspaper about her cancer journey.

Police learned that within her social media posts, medical professionals came forward to report the “terrible life-threatening inaccuracies” of her medical equipment placement on her body in the pictures she shared.

It appeared these photos were taken from inside her apartment and not in a medical office.

Police also discovered that some of the pictures shared on social media were taken from cancer patients’ social media pages.

Medical records taken from Genesis, Trinity and Iowa City’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital showed that although Russo was a patient, she was never treated for any cancers or tumors, according to the affidavit.

Court records show police seized multiple items from Russo’s apartment, including:

  • A gray 2023 Kia Sportage
  • A brown paper bag with medical supplies
  • Bank records
  • An IV pole with a feeding pump filled with cotton balls
  • 2 boxes of transparent dressing
  • A wig
  • Cash
  • Pills for nausea in the name of a relative

One woman who donated to the GoFundMe for Russo said she received an email Tuesday from the crowdfunding website that she would get back her money in three to seven business days.

“I didn’t really have words when my friend sent me the link and said ‘hey didn’t you donate to this?’” the woman said. “I didn’t donate that much but you do what you can and you’re just shocked. I hope the people in the foundations that donated get their money back and they can give it to someone with an actual diagnosis.”

In a statement released Tuesday, “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 has reached out to Russo for comment but has not yet heard back.

clarification: The search warrant cited in this story stated that Russo was a guest speaker for the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. According to the organization, "We can confirm the person in question has had no contact with the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and has never spoken at any of our events."