A Belleville woman who told people she had terminal ovarian cancer, but was really in good health, was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday.
Alissa Jackson, 32, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of more than $500 by deception in December. For two years, the mother of five lied to her children about her diagnosis. She faced up to five years in prison, and could have been sentenced to probation.
When Jen Huelsmann, of Belleville, learned Jackson had terminal ovarian cancer, she and other supporters raised money and gave help to Jackson’s family. Spaghetti dinners, raffle tickets, Internet funding sites, parties, T-shirt sales and silent auctions were organized. Huelsmann estimated the amount of money donated through a GoFundMe page was more than $50,000.
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“I watched people who could barely afford their own household expenses, like myself, generously donate truck loads of supplies and stacks of gift cards,” Huelsmann said.
The final amount is still being determined and a restitution hearing is expected to be scheduled, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said.
It was easier to say I had cancer. The right thing to do was to stop it all immediately, but everything snowballed and spiraled out of control. ... I am not an evil and heartless person. I was a lost person. I will work hard to return every dime that was donated.
Alissa Jackson, in a prepared statement read by her attorney
Huelsmann even brought dinners to Jackson’s house, and started a meal train to ensure that meals were provided at least five days a week.
“I thought it was strange she could eat so much without seeing her throwing it up,” Huelsman said.
Huelsmann became suspicious when Jackson said she was in an emergency room, but the hospital staff said she wasn’t there, nor in any other hospital in the region.
“I wanted the court to try to comprehend the depths Alissa went through to prey on the humanity of not just me or an entire community, but her own children,” Huelsmann said. “The money and supportive energy she stole could have gone to people who were actually battling this horrible disease. The grave destruction from her purposefully deceitful lies and actions that she repeatedly and willfully delivered will always be painfully felt within the hearts of people that cared and loved her the most.”
Amanda Tabor, of New Athens, helped raise money for Jackson. After the sentencing, she called Jackson a pathological liar.
“I have not donated to any charity since this happened,” an angry Tabor said during the sentencing hearing. “You are a scam artist. A leopard never changes its spots. Alissa, you’ll never stop lying.”
Kelly said Jackson repeatedly lied on Facebook about having cancer and the ordeals she was going through. He even called it a “franchise” as T-shirts, shot glasses and bracelets were sold to raise money.
Kelly said even though Jackson could have received probation for the crime, the lighter sentence sought by the defense would lessen the seriousness of the charges.
“No lie was too big and no amount of money was too small for this defendant to take,” Kelly said.
Prosecutors had asked for four years, and not the maximum five years because she does have young children.
Jackson’s attorney Patrick Kilgore said Jackson had health issues that led her to start taking chemotherapy pills, which led her to getting even more sick.
Kilgore said Jackson was sexually abused twice as a child by older male cousins, and had attempted suicide in the past.
She eventually went through rehabilitation after being addicted to heroin and meth. Also, she was in an abusive relationship with her first child’s father.
Taking chemotherapy pills was a slower way of committing suicide, Kilgore contended.
“The money people donated, is not what she was looking for. It’s what she got,” Kilgore said. “She was looking for camaraderie ... It was the first time in her life she had a support system.”
I watched people who could barely afford their own household expenses, like myself, generously donate truck loads of supplies and stacks of gift cards.
Jen Huelsmann of Belleville
Jackson had a prepared statement, but during the hearing she had Kilgore read it because she was crying.
She said she was sorry for her actions, and she started taking chemo pills to harm herself.
“It was easier to say I had cancer,” the statement said. “The right thing to do was to stop it all immediately, but everything snowballed and spiraled out of control. ... I am not an evil and heartless person. I was a lost person. I will work hard to return every dime that was donated.”
Jackson will have to serve at least 50 percent of the sentence imposed by Circuit Judge Jan Fiss.
She was taken into custody after the hearing, but was afforded a few private moments with her family in an empty courtroom.
Jackson had her young daughter on lap prior to the sentencing hearing, which lasted about two hours. The little girl asked, “do you know where the tissues are?”