A young woman who allegedly faked having stage-four breast cancer and took more than $10,000 in donations for treatment pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
Hillary McLellan, 25, of Sebago, Maine, appeared in Portland Unified Criminal Court for the first time since being indicted in May on a charge of theft by deception for stealing $10,500 from 16 businesses and people during a 15-month span beginning in October 2015 and ending in January, according to court records cited by the Portland Press Herald.
McLellan, a former bartender at the Depot Street Tap House in Bridgton, declined to comment to reporters following Tuesday’s hearing, as did her attorney, Neale Duffett.
Friends of the woman told the newspaper last month that McLellan said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2015 and began receiving treatment three times per week. She then told friends she was in remission by February 2016.
McLellan’s roommate, who also worked with her at the bar, told the newspaper people began getting suspicious of her claims after she showed no signs of side effects from radiation and chemotherapy treatment. The pretty strawberry blond also never lost any hair or showed signs of deteriorating health.
“I thought she was skipping treatments,” said Molly Bean, 31. “Never in a million years did I think she wasn’t sick.”
Months after claiming she was in remission, McLellan told friends her cancer returned “with a vengeance” and metastasized to her lymph nodes and blood, according to Carrye Castleman-Ross, the owner of the bar where McLellan worked.
Bar staffers, meanwhile, tipped off customers in a Facebook post in January, claiming McLellan had “duped” sympathetic souls for more than a year.
“This charismatic, seemingly beloved community member took advantage of our compassion and generosity and maintained the charade until Sunday, when, with the support of local law enforcement, we were able to get a confession from her,” the post read. “As shocked, betrayed and disillusioned as we all are, we are cooperating fully with the investigation and intend to assist in prosecution if evidence merits.”
Castleman-Ross was among a group of people who confronted McLellan in January following a fundraiser in October 2016 that netted about $17,000 — including $10,500 in checks – that was later deposited in a bank account for McLellan. During the confrontation, McLellan admitted she didn’t have cancer.
“There is a serious fraud investigation that’s about to happen,” Castleman-Ross said on a video of the intervention later turned over to police. “Your life is about to change.”
McLellan replied: “OK, I don’t have cancer.”
If convicted, McLellan faces up to 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both, the Portland Press Herald reports.