An Illinois woman was charged Wednesday with bilking thousands of dollars in donations from hundreds of people she duped for months into believing she had terminal cancer, drawing scorn from an investigator who labeled the alleged global scheme "evil."
Alissa Jackson, 31, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in southwestern Illinois' St. Clair County just hours after being charged with two felony counts of theft by deception. Jackson, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, told a judge she would hire an attorney and was jailed on $100,000 bond.
Belleville police Detective Sgt. Mark Heffernan said investigators began scrutinizing Jackson nearly a month ago after community members reported their suspicions that she was lying about having late-stage ovarian cancer. Police ultimately found that although the community staged several fundraisers meant to defray her supposed medical expenses, Jackson never had cancer.
It was not immediately clear for how long Jackson carried out her alleged deceit or how much she profited from well-intentioned donors police say were part of "Alissa's Army."
Wednesday's criminal complaint alleges Jackson, who is married and has five children, pocketed more than $500 on May 12 from local Pizza Hut restaurants that devoted 20 percent of their profits that day to her. Jackson also is accused of stealing at least $500 from a woman who bought and sold T-shirts to raise funds for her from January through March 10.
The scope of Jackson's suspected ruse remained unclear Wednesday. Brendan Kelly, St. Clair County's state's attorney, told The Associated Press that "it's fair to say this involved several thousand dollars." Citing the pending prosecution, he declined to discuss the matter further.
Jackson does not have a listed home telephone number.
Heffernan applauded locals who notified investigators about Jackson, whom he said "preyed on the good-hearted nature of the citizens in this community, and that is not something that this agency takes lightly."
"The emotional impact of what Jackson has done cannot be measured," Heffernan said in a statement, noting that the alleged scheme "has had an international reach" illustrated by calls he said police have fielded from around the world.
"To the hundreds of people who donated to 'Alissa's Army': Do not let Jackson's evil prevent you from helping people in the future," Heffernan added. "The willingness to help a person who is in need is something that is a part of human nature. We applaud you for trying to do the right thing. In the future, we suggest donating to established, reputable charities who funnel assistance to families in need."