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Inside Dateline: Faking cancer to get donations


Faking cancer (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)

Imagine if your best friend tells you she's dying of cancer. She is a 29-year-old mother of five young boys and she has only nine months to live. You would probably react the same way two women I interviewed for Friday's Dateline did. They say they rallied to help their friend, offered to care for her boys, searched the Internet for the best cancer treatments and attended and organized fundraisers to help pay medical bills. They say they cried and prayed and cried some more.

Now, imagine nine months later your dying friend looks better than ever. She is fit and tan and you're not quite sure why, especially since she's been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and dialysis treatments that normally debilitate people. Was it possible your friend wasn't really sick? Was is possible this person you thought you knew so well had been lying to you?

Courtesy Of Ozzie Allbrooks

Friday's story is a story about betrayal. And the women you will hear from will tell you being betrayed by your best friend is a con too cruel for anyone to imagine. In fact, they would never have believed it unless a private investigator's hidden camera had captured the cancer scam on tape.

Jennifer Dibble and the story about her fake cancer airs Dateline Friday, July 21, 8 p.m.

July 19, 2006 |

Scamming and betraying family and friends (Olive Talley, Dateline producer)

When private investigator Ozzie Allsbrooks called me to tell me about this investigation, I had a hard time believing it. But it was clear from talking to Ozzie, this was far more than an ordinary case for him. It was personal.

How could a young mother of five sons tell her own children she's dying of cancer, along with other relatives and friends and then be lying about it? It was hard to fathom -- until we saw numerous court records, the undercover surveillance tapes and talked to the very friends this woman had betrayed. It was an undeniable scam.

As our story reveals, Jennifer Dibble was convincing. Who wouldn't be sympathetic to someone who posted  e-mails like these that Jennifer, under her pen name of "fiveboysmom," posted on an Internet parents' support group?

Certainly, the immediate family members of Jennifer and Brian Dibble and their friends were hurt by her actions. But Ozzie Allsbrooks, the private investigator who helped expose the fraud, said he fears even greater fallout for future cancer victims who need the support of strangers. Read to this exchange with correspondent Rob Stafford:

Rob: What bothers you the most about this case?  Ozzie: That it went on for this length of time. That so many people trusted and believed in her apparent ordeal. They gave unselfishly time and time again and she was faking it the whole time.  It irritates me that I had a brother that really did have cancer who passed away in May and left four kids of his own. And, of course, the damage it does to the community. The people that actually gave of their hard-earned money and gifts to her and so forth -- and it was all for nothing. Just so that she could live the way she wanted to live. Rob: Who are the victims here?  Ozzie: The victims? The first victims I think of are her very own sons. They believed their mother was gonna die. And then you have the family members that rallied around her and sacrificed to support her financially, mentally and emotionally. All of the people in the support group that she consulted with that she sought after and wanted their help and they rallied around in ways that it would take too long to describe. And then the last victims, are all of these victims that'll hear this telecast and they'll think about, "Well, gee-whiz, I wonder if these people we're supporting or this guy we're supporting or this girl we're supporting, I wonder if she's really sick or really ill.' They'll question things. There are a lot of people out there that need the help of the kind of people that came to her aid. And they may not go to anybody's aid anymore. They're going to be extremely reluctant. I hate what she did to cause that. "

Finally, for Ozzie, there's the question of justice. It's been two years since this fraud was exposed in open court  in Fort Worth, Texas. Yet, no criminal charges have been filed. Ozzie, a former policeman, considers it an "open and shut" case of fraud. He said he's shared all his evidence with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office in Dallas/Fort Worth. 

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Richard Roper says the case is still under investigation. State prosecutors have told Allsbrooks they're waiting to see what, if any, action is taken by federal authorities before they decide if they will open a case. 

A search of the Internet and newspaper databases reveals many similar cases that have resulted in criminal prosecution. Last year in Georgia, after he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of theft by deception.

In Louisiana last year, a former Shreveport policeman and his wife were in order to collect donations and loans.

In Las Vegas last year, a federal grand jury indicted by telling them she was dying of cancer and taking money from benefits held on her behalf.

In Utah last September, the wife of a federal drug agent was sentenced to jail time after she pretended to have cancer. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted the judge as saying, "You have inflicted damage that will never be corrected." He went on to say that some of the donors were her children's classmates who have lost their innocence by being victims of the scam. 

Finally, two Ohio women were ordered to spend time behind bars for their respective fake cancer schemes. One woman . Another woman shaved her daughters' hair and gave her sleeping pills to .

For Ozzie Allsbrooks, it's more than a matter of law. It's personal.

His brother died of cancer in May 2005, leaving four children behind. In the future, Ozzie hopes to start a non-profit that can help people check out the claims of people who seek money from the public for medical help BEFORE they donate. He said real victims of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses need support while donors need to know that their money is going for a genuine cause. And, as Ozzie knows painfully well, it can be a matter of life and death.