Local woman arrested, accused of faking cancer for donations

Published: Jun. 4, 2015 at 6:12 PM EDT
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By: Noelani Mathews; WCTV Eyewitness News

June 7, 2016

LOWNDES COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) -- It’s a face that many recognize in the Lowndes County area. Mandy Hargraves is known to many as the face of “Mandy Strong.”

"Mandy Strong" was the term coined two years ago by friends of Mandy Thornton Hargraves. An online fundraiser to support Hargraves in her fight to survive Stage 3 cancer quickly took off and #MandyStrong became well-known in the community. Hargraves began accepting donations in late 2014.

But now police say her inspiring story of survival was all a scam and her cancer diagnosis was fabricated.

The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office arrested Hargraves on Monday for theft by deception.

Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Stryde Jones, "When someone is charitable enough to reach out to someone and then find out that charitable giving done was with an ill will, it hurts."

Friends that live in Lake Park say they didn't think twice when asked by Mandy to start the fundraiser. Now, they say they feel betrayed.

"They raised t-shirts for them, their own daughters had worn the t-shirts and they were basically disgusted," says Koryn Faircloth.

Faircloth has been cancer-free for two years. Once diagnosed with Lymphoma, she knows the importance of donations when fighting a cancer battle.

"It's not even a question. If it's anyone that you love and care for, they automatically give all that they can give and then some," Faircloth says.

Which is why, she says, this is the worst scam of them all.

"The fact that Mandy did these fundraisers like that and it was fraud is disgraceful."

Now, people may be wary of making their next donation on popular crowdfunding sites.

Capt. Jones says, "People just need to be aware of that and make decisions based on their individual circumstances and their knowledge of the charity, person, or event that they're giving to."

The Sheriff's Office says Mandy has not said why she did it, but so far, they've identified more than $1,200 dollars in donations.

By: Noelani Mathews

June 6, 2016

LOWNDES CO., Ga. (WCTV) -- The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office says Mandy Thornton Hargraves turned herself in on Monday for taking donations for a fake cancer diagnosis.

Last year, Mandy asked friends to launch the fundraiser "Mandy Strong" to help with medical expenses.

According to the GoFundMe account, Mandy claims she was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer of the stomach, lymph nodes, bloodstream, and heart.

LCSO says the investigation took nearly a year, after being notified by family and friends that the cancer was a fraud.

Hargraves is being charged with a misdemeanor for theft by deception.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Winnie Wright

June 4th, 2015

Lake Park, GA - Last Halloween, friends of Mandy Thornton Hargraves say they were given devastating news. Mandy told them she was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer of the stomach, lymph nodes, blood stream, and heart. At Mandy's request, the friends say they launched "Mandy Strong" to help with medical expenses.

However, over time, the details didn't add up. After Mandy was given the money, the women allege she wouldn't show them any proof she was being seen by a doctor. This week, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office began investigating the case.

"I think that she should be prosecuted for it. And I think she should have to pay back all that money and donate it to the cancer center," says Renae Williams, a Lake Park resident.

Williams says after watching her father suffer through chemo-therapy, she finds this allegation to be very serious.

"For someone to turn around and pretend that they have cancer, I just think it's really sad. Very sad," adds Williams.

According to the Mandy Strong Facebook page, most of the money donated to Mandy was raised through the distribution of T-shirts at local businesses. However, many of those businesses say they had no idea their business names would be associated with the charity.

"We do not know anything about this charity. I do not know the lady. We had nothing to do with anything," says Audrey Rodgers, the Owner of Pinstripes and Polka Dots, a business where the "Mandy Strong" T-shirts were distributed.

Mandy's friends did not want to speak on camera, however, they say they feel like they were tricked by someone they trusted.

Mandy Hargraves did not return our request for comment. The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office says it doesn't comment on open investigations.