UPDATE: Weaver-Gates pleaded guilty in June 2016 to theft charges and was sentenced to two to four years in prison on July 26, 2016, WTAJ-TV reports. She was also ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution and will be on probation for five years. You can read the original story below:
A 23-year-old Pennsylvania beauty queen has been accused of lying about having cancer for more than two years so that she could raise thousands of dollars for herself, police say.
She was charged with theft by deception and receiving stolen property, both felonies. Weaver-Gates, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, was held on $150,000 bail at the Centre County Correctional Facility.
“There are many people out there who have family, friends, neighbors, that are affected by some form of cancer,” Trooper Thomas Stock told WJAC-TV. “And unfortunately you have people out there who take advantage of that.”
Here’s what you need to know about Weaver-Gates:
1. She Shaved Her Head & Had Her Family Drive Her to a Baltimore Hospital for ‘Treatment’
Pennsylvania State Police said they began investigating Brandi Weaver-Gates after receiving an anonymous tip about her saying Weaver-Gates couldn’t name any of her doctors. According to police, the “elaborate scheme” stretched back to 2013, when she first said she was diagnosed with leukemia, a disease investigators say she never had.
Trooper Thomas Stock told WJAC-TV that Weaver-Gates had relatives drive her to John Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore for supposed treatment. Stock told the news station that Weaver-Gates would tell her family to wait in the hospital’s lobby, while she went to a different part of the medical facility and returned several hours later.
Weaver-Gates also shaved her head, wore a surgical mask and posted photos to Facebook showing a fake bandage. She claimed to have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“There were some inconsistencies, such as Ms. Gates hair was always there and never falling out,” Stock told WJAC. “She did not know the name of her doctors, and other things like that.”
She worked as a cheerleading coach and at Strawberry Fields, a farm for people with disabilities in State College, Pennsylvania, according to her LinkedIn page.
A friend who also works at Strawberry Fields posted on Facebook on Tuesday about the arrest:
Now that this is in the news I can FINALLY share how I’ve been feeling for months. As many of you may know.. I was room mates and best friends with Brandi Weaver Gates for many years and room mates for about 2 years. Not only did I (and many other caring people) do a benefit for her… Raising thousands of dollars… but I personally stayed up countless of nights crying my eyes out for her. Countless of hours praying for her. And COUNTLESS of times waiting up for her “after an appointment” doing all the cleaning because she felt “sick” crying along side her time and time again because she had cancer. GIVING HER MONEY. Disgusted. Dumb founded. Hurt. Furious. Hate. Those are just a very VERY few words I can think up to describe this right now… But you know what else I think…. Pity. Sorrow. and PRAYER. I will PRAY for you Brandi. Even though at this moment, to me, you are lower then the scum of the earth… But I WILL PRAY FOR YOU. Because that is what GOOD people do. And believe me when I say…. Your soul NEEDS PRAYERS. And a very wise Pastor, whom I respect and love dearly, reminded me today that we all should NEVER let hatred turn our souls ugly. So listen up every body that this news hurts and breaks down… Please remember to NOT lose faith. And pray.❤ GOD BLESS.
A graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School who went on to Penn State University, Weaver-Gates also claimed was also burned by boiling water over 32 percent of her lower body, according to StateCollege.com. It’s not clear if that actually happened. The news site said Weaver-Gates spent 11 months receiving treatments and physical therapy after the burn, and had to perform special exercises and receive special procedures on to keep the scar tissue soft and so it could stretch.
2. She Held Fundraisers Starting in 2013 to Raise Money for Her ‘Battle’ With Cancer
Weaver-Gates, then 21, began holding fundraisers in 2013 to raise money for her supposed battle with leukemia, police said in a press release.
The Centre Daily Times wrote about one of the early fundraisers, “Brandi’s Benefit Bash.” Weaver-Gates told the newspaper before that September 2013 event she had recently received good news from a bone marrow biopsy, which showed she was down to 5 percent cancer cells. She said chemotherapy was making her close to being cured.
Weaver-Gates told the Daily Times her bills were mounting and she had to put aside her three jobs, at Strawberry Fields, as a youth cheerleading coach and as a restaurant server.
“If I can raise a dollar for her, I’ve done something,” Jerry King, a local resident who organized the fundraiser, told the newspaper at the time. “I’m really hanging with her, you know. I’m hoping what we’re doing will help her, no matter what.”
The most recent fundraiser was held in April, police said. Called “Bingo For Brandi,” the event raised $14,000.
Weaver-Gates talked about the bingo event in a May interview with the Centre County Gazette.
“It was amazing. I didn’t know half of the people there. It really did surprise me. It speaks to how great our community is. They wanted to come and support someone who is going through a hard time in their life,” she said. The newspaper added that she was “emotional” while talking about it.
“This is a fundraiser Bingo for Brandi Weaver-Gates who will be going through her third round of chemo treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, her diagnosis came in March of 2013. Her last two rounds of treatments Brandi has been driving to John’s Hopkins in Baltimore this fundraiser will help Brandi to pay for her medical bills and travels for treatment,” the event’s organizer said on Facebook.
“Brandi is just a sweet girl and a good friend of our family,” Kaitlyn Weaver, one of the “Bingo for Brandi” organizers, told StateCollege.com in March. “She’s doing OK. She started treatments last week and went to Baltimore for the first time. She’s having a positive attitude, as always. She’s trying so hard not to let it affect her.”
“She’s so much fun. She loves being adventurous. Whenever we go four-wheeling, she loves riding through the giant mud puddles, things like that. She’s awesome. She truly lives for the moment,” Weaver said.
On Tuesday, Weaver posted a link to a news story about Weaver-Gates arrest on her Facebook page and said, “I sincerely apologize for asking anyone to donate to this. I feel awful, disgusted, and at a loss of words. We had no idea. This is absolutely unbelievable…”
3. There Were No Records of Her Being a Patient at the Hospitals Where She Claimed to Have Been Treated
“In speaking with all the locations, it was discovered that she never received any sort of treatment at any of the locations,” Trooper Thomas Stock told WJAC.
Weaver-Gates declined to be interviewed by police, instead requesting an attorney. Police said she also gave them a bill from Johns Hopkins for treatment that turned out to be fake. Her first court appearance is scheduled for August 19.
She also declined to comment to local reporters.
Stock asked anyone who donated money to contact state police.
4. She Has Been Stripped of Her Crown & Sash
Butler’s Beauties, the organization that oversees Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International, said Weaver-Gates will be required to return her crown and sash after she is released from jail.
“We were also led to believe that she was dealing with this horrible disease and stood by her as she struggled being a beauty queen and a cancer patient,” Butler’s Beauties said in a statement. “Butler’s Beauties believes that with a crown and sash you can accomplish many great things as a role model, spokesmodel and community leader as a beauty pageant queen. When you deceive the public and take people’s money that is under the pretense of fraud, we will not tolerate those actions. Our hearts go out to those affected by cancer and to those who were taken advantage of by Miss Weaver-Gates.”
Weaver-Gates participated at the Miss U.S. International pageant in June, and did not place in the top 15, according to the organization’s website. The winner of the Miss U.S. International pageant advances to the Miss International Beauty Pageant, which is one of the “Big 4” pageants, along with Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Earth.
5. She Posted on Facebook About Being in Remission as Recently as July
The newspaper says she posted on July 17, “I can’t believe it’s been a week already since I found out that I’m in remission again!!! From a sick/scary 4th, to celebrating remission, to having a sip for my one week mark! #kickitsbutt #KICKEDitsbutt #byebyecancer.”
In May, a local newspaper wrote about her beauty queen success and updated readers on her “illness.”
“Being able to get out on a larger scale and be an inspiration to others … that’s what I am most excited about. I’ll have a lot more opportunities to make a difference,” she told the Centre County Gazette in May.
“When I was about 10 years old, I decided that I really wanted to make a difference in others’ lives and make a big difference in the world,” she said.
Her illness hasn’t changed things, she said. “It really puts things into perspective. It makes you think … you really need to do what you want to do now because you don’t know what’s next. I like to think this has been an inspiration to other people. Even though it’s a struggle, it’s a blessing because it has made a difference in my life and in other people’s lives.”
About her “cancer battle,” Weaver-Gates told the local newspaper, “I get tired a lot easier. I’ve always been a go, go, go type of person. But other than being tired, I’m doing OK. I’m still going through treatment. I’ve had two treatments so far. I have four more to go.”
She said telling her parents she had cancer was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.
“I know that’s a parent’s worst fear, possibly losing a child. That was the hardest part, making my parents go through this. I mean, I know I’m not making them, but that’s how it feels,” Weaver-Gates told the newspaper.