A southwestern Illinois woman has pleaded guilty to lying about a terminal ovarian cancer diagnosis and stealing money raised on her behalf.
Thirty-two-year-old Alissa Jackson of Belleville was a married mother of five when she was charged in June 2014 with bilking thousands of dollars in donations, free food and a donated minivan from hundreds of people on behalf of "Alissa's Army."
St. Clair County court records show that she waived her right to a trial and pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of theft of more than $500 by deception.
The Belleville News-Democrat reports that St. Clair state's attorney plans to seek the maximum five-year prison sentence for Jackson at a Jan. 28 hearing.
Belleville police Detective Sgt. Mark Heffernan said investigators began scrutinizing Jackson 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."
Her criminal complaint alleges Jackson, who is married and has five children, pocketed more than $500 on May 12, 2014, 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 of that year.
Brendan Kelly, St. Clair County's state's attorney, has told The Associated Press that "it's fair to say this involved several thousand dollars."
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."