Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ontario woman faces charges in cancer fraud

Scammed local residents: police

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Days after a woman admitted in court she faked cancer to play on the sympathies of those around her and cheat them out of their money, police in Ontario are accusing yet another young woman of running the same scam.

Police in Timmins, Ont., are accusing a woman of defrauding local residents and businesses of money and donations to fund what police allege were non-existent cancer treatments.

Police said in a news release Saturday the woman pretended she had stomach and lung cancer over the past few months.

"It's alleged that she doesn't and has never had cancer," police said.

Jessica Ann Leeder, 21, was arrested Friday. She faces charges of fraud, and is being held in police custody pending a bail hearing.

Police said there may be other victimized businesses or individuals out there. They're asking anyone who thinks they may have fallen prey to a scheme to contact them.

A Facebook page posted by a Jessica Leeder of Timmins lists Huntsville, Ont., as her hometown and counts "jamming to my guitar" and "my race car on weekends" among her "likes and interests."

She also enjoys reading, smoking, partying and "being me," while her favourite bands include the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and Duran Duran.

There was no way to immediately confirm without a doubt it is the same Jessica Leeder.

Gaetan Gagnon, who runs the Bristol Speedway with his wife, said he remembers Leeder, who used to race on the quarter-mile dirt stock car track.

"We were so surprised to see that on the news," he told Postmedia News.

"I remember her. To me over here she was a very nice girl."

Gagnon said she was a regular at the speedway last year. She was "not bad" but not "the best" driver and stood out more because there aren't very many female participants.

While she raced once this year, she told them she had cancer in the spring, Gagnon said.

He said he noticed at that time she didn't have any hair.

"She never approached us for any help money-wise," he added. "She knows we're not a rich outfit. Just something for fun."

The new case follows on the heels of the highly publicized charges against Ashley Anne Kirilow of Burlington, Ont., who pleaded guilty this past week to fraud over $5,000.

Kirilow, 23, shaved her head, plucked her eyebrows and starved herself to lose weight in an attempt to mimic the symptoms of chemotherapy treatment and the ravages of cancer.

Claiming she had breast and ovarian cancer and armed with pictures of her displaying an apparently brave and uplifting attitude in the face of her battle, she elicited sympathy and admiration from friends and strangers alike and prompted thousands of dollars in donations through a Facebook-based charity.

At one point, she told a fundraiser in her honour she had just months to live.

Seven additional counts of fraud under $5,000 from other donors will be dealt with at a court appearance in January. She does not contest the frauds, only the amounts.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2010 A16

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