Prosecutors file complaint to forfeit vehicle seized from Bettendorf woman charged in cancer scam

A hearing date on the complaint has not yet been set.
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 7:27 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Scott County prosecutors have filed a complaint to forfeit a vehicle seized from a Bettendorf woman who police say received thousands of dollars in donations for a false cancer claim.

On Thursday, Assistant Scott County Attorney Robert Cusack filed the complaint in Scott County District Court and wrote that the 2023 Kia Sport Utility Vehicle belonging to Madison Russo, 19, was “acquired as or from the proceeds of a criminal offense or series of offenses.”

The vehicle was seized in late January by Eldridge police, according to the complaint.

A hearing date has not yet been set on the complaint.

Russo is charged with first-degree theft, a Class C felony. A trial date has tentatively been set for May.

According to court records:

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 that has since been removed 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 court records.

In February, prosecutors filed a complaint to forfeit more than $33,000 from accounts belonging to Russo.

On Monday, her attorney, Andrea Jaeger, filed a response to the complaint and requested that it be denied and for the money to be returned to Russo.

In her response, Jaeger wrote that Russo is the legal owner of the money and it was acquired through lawful employment, gifts and loans. She also wrote that Russo was not involved in “conduct giving rise to forfeiture” and “is not aware of any alleged conduct giving rise to forfeiture.”

A hearing date has not yet been set on the complaint, court records show.