Updated 02/29/2012 10:00 PM
Police Say Woman Faked Cancer, Raised Thousands of Dollars
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Steamboat Landing is a Canandaigua community landmark. The restaurant was asked to host a fundraiser for a local woman fighting breast cancer.
"She has kids in on our school. She works in our community," said Dennis Behr of Steamboat Landing.
Behr was more than willing to help out.
"It just made you think, ‘wow, how horrible is this?,"
Sunday's benefit for Melissa Jones raised more than $20,000; money that was supposed to be uses to help Jones and her family as she battles inflammatory breast cancer.
Three days later, Behr was given some disturbing news.
"I got here at 11 this morning and it was the first thing I was told,” Behr said.
"We can at this point say there's no evidence that she has cancer,” said Investigator Scott Kadien of the Canandaigua Police Department.
Three weeks ago, police began receiving calls from people concerned Jones' heart wrenching story wasn't true. When Jones was questioned, police say she produced medical records from a hospital in Boston and one in Rochester. Police say those records were forged.
Seventeen fundraisers had already been held or were planned locally and in Boston, where Jones is from. A website allowed people to donate to Jones' cause online and even featured a fundraising goal.
"Your average person, raising a family, who says they have cancer, why wouldn't you believe it? And that's the travesty of it,” said Chief Jon Welch of the Canandaigua Police Department.
Police have recovered a substantial amount of money in cash donations and through a bank account. They're trying to figure out how to get those funds back to those who donated and plan to seek restitution for those who donated money that's already been spent.
"I'm sorry that this happened,” said Behr.
Steamboat Landing hosts as many as 10 fundraising events each year. Behr says he'll be more careful in the future but will continue to open his doors to legitimate causes.
"I like believing in people. I just hope I don't ever see anything like this ever again."
Jones is free on $25,000 cash bail. She could be back in court later this week or early next week.
We tried to speak to her at her Canandaigua home. Her family had no comment on these charges.
Police are asking anyone who donated money to Melissa Jones to call the Canadaigua Police Department at (585) 394-3311.