A Calgary woman who pretended to have cancer and claimed to be a Fort McMurray wildfire evacuee to cash in on donations has pleaded guilty to fraud.
Jennifer Halford, 34, entered guilty pleas on seven counts of fraud Tuesday dating back to the beginning of the year.
Halford claimed she had aggressive breast cancer and that she and her family had lost everything in the northern Alberta spring wildfires. She received donations including gift cards, food, clothing, babysitting and beauty treatments.
“She effectively manipulated those two fictitious components of her story in order to gain sympathy and various items of charity from the goodwill of other people that she either knew in the community or to whom she was a stranger,” said Crown prosecutor Jason Wuttunee in an interview outside of court.
“It’s a troubling set of facts. Ms. Halford took advantage of a lot of people’s goodwill and good faith and their charity and generosity. It appears that Ms. Halford may be struggling from mental health concerns. That’s a possibility.”
The court has ordered a psychiatric assessment prior to a sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for April 4, 2017.
Halford took advantage of cancer survivors, as well as mothers she met in 2008 when her daughter was receiving treatment for mitochondrial disease. Her five-year-old daughter died in January, 2011.
Halford’s lawyer said her client has shown remorse.
“Ms. Halford has expressed the need to take responsibility for the actions that she has committed,” said Michelle Parhar.
“It avoids all of the complainants having to come to court and testify. It has been very overwhelming for her and obviously having taken ownership for what she has done is difficult, but she’s managed to do it.”
Halford had no previous criminal record. Wuttunee said public outrage won’t have any impact on what kind of sentence the Crown asks for.
“We look at what the case law and what our courts say in what a proportionate sentence would be,” he said. “That has to do with the culpability of the accused as an offender and the gravity of the offences she committed.”
Halford remains free on bail. She declined to comment as she left the courthouse.