Ontario woman pleads guilty to faking cancer to raise cash, which she kept
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 2, 2010 6:56PM EDT
MILTON, Ont. - An Ontario woman who faked cancer and swindled thousands of dollars out of charitable friends and colleagues "enjoyed the attention" she received when people thought she was dying, court heard Tuesday.
But Ashley Kirilow's lawyer said the young woman who created a bogus charity on Facebook couldn't have anticipated the outrage and media crush that would follow.
"It's the perfect storm," said Brendan Neil.
"You've got social networking... you've got an insidious disease, which almost everyone in our society is touched with.
"When you put all those factors together there's a public outcry."
Kirilow, 23, of Burlington, Ont., pleaded guilty to the most serious charge against her -- one count of fraud over $5,000, which carries a maximum 14-year prison sentence.
She still faces six counts of fraud under $5,000, which each carry a maximum term of two years.
Dressed in heels, black jeans and a sweater, and wearing her hair shoulder length, Kirilow looked much healthier than images posted online last year, which showed a sallow, thin woman with no hair.
Kirilow's father has said she told him she shaved her head and eyebrows, and plucked her eyelashes to appear to have cancer.
In the Facebook picture she also made fists to show off tattoos on her knuckles that read, in black lettering, "Won't quit." Other photos had shown a pair of hands wrapped in tubes and taped with needles.
The criminal allegations against Kirilow ignited a palpable rage.
Searing comments were splashed across the Facebook page set up for Kirilow's fake charity, Change for a Cure, with some even saying they hoped she got cancer.
More than a year ago Kirilow found a lump in her breast and, suspecting the worst, had it removed, court heard Tuesday.
The lump was benign but Kirilow began telling people she had cancer in an effort to make her parents feel bad, the Crown said.
Her parents are divorced and each have other families. No one from Kirilow's family appeared in court Tuesday.
Kirilow received support from organizations as far away as the United States, and was even given a free trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.
Donna Michalowski, a real estate agent who Kirilow worked for, arranged a fundraiser at Club 54 in Burlington in February 2009.
On Tuesday in a voice barely registering above a whisper, Kirilow pleaded guilty to defrauding Michalowski of close to $7,400.
"It's a sign of taking responsibility," Neil said outside the court, adding Kirilow is "remorseful" and wants to move on with her life.
Kirilow's motivation was likely not about money considering, at most, $20,000 was allegedly stolen and most likely it was "substantially less than that," Neil said.
"There's got to be something else there other than pure financial gain, because it's not a lot of money for one person."
The situation spiralled out of control for Kirilow, who has since sought counselling arranged through the John Howard Society, a non-profit organization that assists people in trouble with the law, he said.
Shortly after she turned herself in to police in August, Kirilow's parents tearfully spoke out, saying they've tried to help her for years. Her father, Mike Kirilow, has said he won't support his daughter. Her mother, Cindy Edwards, has also said she wants "nothing to do with her anymore."
Neil said his client has been in touch with her family since then.
"To say that the family abandoned her, I think that's wrong," he said.
Kirilow's remaining charges will be addressed next year.
Sentencing was put over until Jan. 27, when a pre-sentence report is expected to be submitted to the court.